Pensions of Former State Employees Doubled  

International aid organisations on Tuesday welcomed a government decision to double state pensions, but warned that more had to be done for Ethiopia 's elderly. Peter Bofin, the head of HelpAge International, said that whereas the move was a positive step, it was noteworthy that about 3 million old people in the country were receiving no pension at all.

Ethiopia 's 411,000 or so pensioners have now seen their state pensions doubled to US $11 a month, but the recipients are all former government and state sector employees.

"These pensioners are among the lucky ones, because they have already been working for a large part of their lives and have money," Bofin told IRIN. "Our concern is with the elderly in rural areas, who have no pension and often have not worked. They are extremely poor and have little support," he added.

The plight of the elderly in Ethiopia - one of the world's 10 poorest countries - is particularly hard. Bofin said HelpAge was currently considering the feasibility of offering old people cash as an alternative to the food aid many of them were depending on.

He went on to observe that the elderly often bore the brunt of the HIV/AIDS virus in having to care for their orphaned grandchildren, whose parents had died of the disease.

Mulunesh Alemu is 70 and looks after four orphaned grandchildren. A year ago, the virus killed her unmarried daughter. She receives no pension. "It is so hard to survive," she told IRIN. "If it was just me, I could live on begging and bread, but I have to feed the children."

"In the last decade, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has had a devastating but under-reported impact on older people's lives and on those who depend on them," Bofin said. He pointed out that food aid was often "unproductive" because it was given to the elderly in the form of direct handouts, whereas if cash were handed out instead, it could serve to stimulate the local economy.

Bofin said, for example, that a recipient of cash could buy an ox to help with farming, as well as exercise choice in the type of food to buy instead of just getting grain in the hand-outs. "It also has a knock-on effect for the household, because cash would be part of the income for the family," he noted.

The pension increase - which has been backdated to September - will cost the government about $6 million. The increase was announced as being designed to help former government employees meet the rising cost of living.

Copyright 2002 Global Action on Aging
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