LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Afghanistan is the worst country to live in as an older person, an annual index on the wellbeing of the elderly showed on Wednesday.
The Asian country was ranked bottom for the second consecutive year in HelpAge International's Global AgeWatch Index, its health situation in particular the poorest in the world.
Norway topped the index - up one place from last year - followed by Sweden, Switzerland, Canada and Germany, all of which remained in the top 10. Apart from Japan - ranked ninth - the 10 best performers were again in western Europe, North America and Australasia.
The report, which focused on pensions and warned that half the world’s population faces a bleak future without one, comes at a time when life expectancy continues to rise.
According to the United Nations the number of people over 60 will more than double to over two billion by 2050, meaning older people would comprise 21 percent of the world’s population.
Toby Porter, chief executive of HelpAge International, said governments worldwide need to implement specific policies to respond to "this unequovical demographic shift".
"Only if they act now will they have a chance to meet the needs of their citizens and keep their economies going," Porter told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The index highlighted an explosion of tax-financed, non-contributory social pensions which now exist in more than 100 countries, and have the potential to create a basic regular income for some of the very poorest older people.
Latin American countries led the way and Mexico is a prime example of this shift toward social pensions, having risen 26 places from last year to 30th in the overall index ranking.
While the contributory pension scheme introduced in Mexico in 1943 still covers only around a quarter of the population, the rapid expansion of social pensions in the past decade means nearly nine out of 10 Mexicans aged 65-plus are now covered.
"Social pensions are essential in developing countries where very few people have spent time in formal employment with contributory pensions," Porter added.
"People need this basic state provision, and governments must realize that social pensions are an affordable measure."
China introduced a rural social pension in 2009, which has reached 133 million people at a cost of 1.8 percent of GDP.
The index found that despite rapidly aging populations, most countries could keep costs stable as a percentage of GDP while indexing pension levels to keep pace with the cost of living.
Chris Roles, director of Age International, said social pensions could also contribute to reducing poverty by increasing the amount families have to spend.
“Pensions have the potential to lift millions of older people out of poverty”, Roles said in a statement as the index was released.
“But they also benefit whole households and contribute to economic growth.”
The index, which ranked 96 countries and represented nine out of 10 people over 60 around the world, measured elderly wellbeing in four categories: income security, health, personal capability and an enabling environment.
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; editing by Tim Pearce