Expert Speak Urban Futures
Published on Dec 10, 2018
Tel Aviv’s Homebound Tracking could lead the way for ageing and lonely population in urban India

Taking care of the homebound (those unable to leave home primarily because ageing or of any handicap or illness), is a huge challenge that has already hit cities in both India and around the world. This is true particularly in India, where, thanks to the rising concept of nuclear families and migration trends, the elderly are increasingly either staying home alone or remain homebound.

To overcome this peculiar problem – largely caused by changing societal and familial structures in large urban agglomerations – city municipal corporations could take a leaf from Tel Aviv, Israel’s second most populous city.

Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipal Corporation has created a support system for the homebound through a simple tech-intervention integral to the Tel Aviv Smart City plan. This system ensures that all homebound citizens have emergency services at their fingertips, and also have someone personally checking on them every week.

The Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipal Corporation uses a smart integration management software to track the homebound, as part of the smart city digital network. The homebound tracking system is connected to an ‘Emergency Buddy’ programme that promotes a citizen-to-citizen connect which forms the crux of the cities’ digital initiative. If provided in India, such civic services could easily compliment the services provided through all city-based social welfare schemes for the elderly. Incidentally, the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipal Corporation has partnered with the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) and Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) in Maharashtra on their civic digitial transformation projects.

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNESDA) has predicted that the proportion of Indians aged 60 and older in India, will rise from 7.5 percent in 2010 to 11.1 percent in 2025. While the country’s demographic dividend captures the political and media mindset, the fact remains that in 2010, India had more than 91.6 million elderly, with yearly addition of 2.5 million elderly between 2005 and 2010. These numbers expected to surpass the population of children below 14 years by 2050. With over 34 percent of the population based in urban India, managing this population and tending to the elderly and homebound is a challenge that Indian cities have to have to think about seriously.

Although Tel Aviv, Israel’s hi-tech city, cannot be compared to any of the metropolitan cities of India such as New Delhi or Mumbai, its innovation in this sector could be a good reference point to approach this problem. Israel, like India and China, is also facing issues of ageing and homebound. Out of 8.3 million Israelis, 900,000 (around 11 percent) were classified as elderly (65 and above) in 2014, the latest year for which figures are available. This is said to double by 2050.

All the senior citizens and those who are homebound are mapped by the city and they are marked on a GIS system, so that every resident can be traced down right to his street and into his home in case of any emergency.

They all have Tel Aviv city ‘digicards’, which are connected to the social security number, through which they help the homebound avail of the services. In case of a single phone call, s/he can be traced and emergency services can reach him or her in a matter of minutes. These citizens are connected to nearest hospitals and medical services for emergencies. However, in its bid to ensure a citizen-to-citizen connect, the municipal corporation has linked an ‘Emergency Buddy’ volunteer programme to this database. Through this, volunteers receive first aid training and certification free of charge. They visit the elderly and homebound individuals once-a-week to check their vitals and give them company to help them deal with their loneliness. Also in case of emergencies, the municipal corporation can activate the nearest volunteers and medical services to help them reach the homebound.

Zohar Sharon, chief knowledge officer of Tel Aviv, explained that this concept comes from the philosophy of the ‘circle of life’ that the municipal corporation follows while designing its digital space and services for citizens. “Every age group has a different need and every person needs different services at different points of her life. For example, a young person might need more recreation, a toddlers’ parents might need kindergarten services, while the elderly and especially the homebound needs specialised services. An important component of our programme was the elderly and the homebound that needed help. Senior citizens make up for a large user base of our digital services,” he said.

Currently, Tel Aviv has about 1,200 homebound members registered and marked on their system, and a continuous check is kept on them.

Such services are also extended to senior citizens who are not homebound. They receive push notifications on special events taking place for them, or they are given information on cheap movie tickets or special discounts available just for them. Tel Aviv, Sharon adds, wants to make its people believe that they belong and are valuable, and the homebound tracking programme is just a small component of its larger digital management plan. “The crux of our mandate is to impact people’s lives and make a positive change in the way they live,” he says.

Pune, in its smart city programme, and Thane, through its digital programme, are still in the first of digital transformation stage where both cities are internally digitising information to get it ready for citizens. The stages of transformation are three-fold: i) Internally within the system where the database is built, ii) establishing the link between the municipal corporation and citizen, and iii) linking up the volunteers and users. While homebound mapping and volunteering falls in the second and third stages of a city’s digital transformation processes, creating a column of homebound people in the next Census of India in 2021 or at least mapping the homebound people in the city – like it is done in the case of the homeless – could be a starting point toward less-lonely and helpless futures.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Sayli UdasMankikar

Sayli UdasMankikar

Sayli UdasMankikar was a Senior Fellow with the ORF's political economy programme. She works on issues related to sustainable urbanisation with special focus on urban ...

Read More +