Hundreds of elderly starving in Caribbean Netherlands: Ombudsman

A street in Kralendijk on Bonaire
A street in Kralendijk on Bonaire Photo: dbvirago/DepositPhotos

Hundreds of elderly people on the Dutch Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius regularly go to bed hungry. They have no food at home and often can't find a spot at the daycare, where food is provided, National Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen said in his report Eye for the Elderly in the Caribbean Netherlands, NOS reports. 

Elderly people in the Caribbean Netherlands often live a degrading life, according to Van Zutphen. "They have an AOV benefit [a variant of the Dutch state pension] but can hardly make ends meet and often live in bitter poverty", the Ombudsman said. The costs of basic necessities is almost twice as high on the islands as in the European Netherlands, while the AOV benefit is 450 euros lower for single elderly people than the Dutch variant. Housing costs are high and groceries are expensive. Many elderly people cannot afford fresh fruit and vegetables.

"We have to work from our heart", Van Zutphen said. According to him, everyone thought things would get better on the islands after 10 October 2010, the date that the Netherlands Antilles were dismantled and Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius came under the direct authority of The Hague. "But it just go worst, it didn't help the poor."

The Ombudsman wants the Netherlands to create a so-called Caribbean table. "All departments in The Hague with a task within the Caribbean Netherlands must join, under the leadership of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations", he said. "Government agencies now focus too much on their own duties, powers and budgets. They do not sufficiently realize that their policies come together with vulnerable elderly people in the Caribbean Netherlands."

Nina den Heyer, a representative for Society and Care in the local island government of Bonaire, is happy with the Ombudsman's report and calls his recommendations a "great plan", according to NOS. "But I also want to sit at that table myself, have a say and help make decisions" she said to the broadcaster. 

"The big problem for the elderly is they cannot do extra jobs to raise their income. We call it Lora Man here, rustling and arranging. Almost everyone has an extra job in addition to their work or arranges other things, because they do not earn enough to get by", Den Heyer said. The facilities on the island are also inadequate. "Public transport is poor, the elderly do not leave the house. Usually they live with one of their children or their children live with them. Yet they are lonely, because everyone is earning money away from home."

Den Heyer thinks that the poverty problem among the elderly can be solved with a serious approach from the Netherlands. But added that The Hague should not get stuck focusing only on the elderly, but also face poverty among children. "They grow up in poverty. I can predict how children who grow up in poverty will later present in society. While they do have talents!"