World Day of Social Justice – Older people mostly ignored in emergencies around the world

POSTED: 02/18/13 12:25 PM

St. Maarten – HelpAge International says humanitarian agencies and donors have failed to address the needs of older people in emergency situations around the world – despite older people being among the most vulnerable. HelpAge has chosen 20 February 2013, World Day of Social Justice, to call for better support for older people during emergency and recovery situations.

New research carried by HelpAge International – in two very different places which have been hit by disasters – confirms that the needs of older people are not being met despite the fact that they form one of the most vulnerable groups.

A new study on the situation of older people in Haiti published by HelpAge International shows that in the area of risk and disaster management, 69.8% of older persons in urban areas and 79.8% in rural areas considered that they had not received assistance during emergency responses to disasters.

Older people are amongst the most vulnerable in emergencies, yet their needs are often overlooked. Despite the fact that approximately 11% of the world’s population is aged 60 and above, less than 1% of humanitarian aid (allocated via the CAP and flash appeal process) was allocated to older people in 2010 and 2011. Natural disasters have an impact on at least 200 million people a year around the world. By 2050, the number of people aged 60 and over will almost triple, reaching 2 billion – 22 per cent of the world’s population.

 “When a humanitarian crisis arises, older people are particularly vulnerable to injury, death, neglect and disease. However, the reality they face in emergencies often goes unnoticed – older people remain invisible in crises. They are often unable to travel to the relative safety of a displacement camp or they may be left behind to look after small children and disabled relatives.” Richard Blewitt, Chief Executive Officer of HelpAge International, said.

“Governments must do much more to tackle the inequality that hampers humanitarian efforts and to ensure that older people start off on a solid footing with support for their unique needs. A comprehensive response requires awareness from all organisations – including UN agencies, international NGOs, political leaders and policy experts. We need to include older people in all of our programs so they can actively participate in planning and explain their needs to camp and government authorities. While older people need targeted support, they also offer wisdom and experience that is vital to recovery.”


On 12 January 2010, Haiti was hit by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake that left a large area around Port-au-Prince devastated. 222,000 people died, more than 300,000 were seriously injured and 1.5 million people instantly became homeless and moved into hundreds of camps. HelpAge International believes that amongst the 3.5 million affected, 200,000 were older people. Two years after the earthquake, thousands of people are still living in camps in appalling conditions.

Roger, a 66-year-old Haitian fishermen and carpenter who in 2008 had a stroke which left him partially paralysed down one side, said:

“When the earthquake happened I was in the outside latrine. A huge hole appeared in the wall and I saw another wall near me collapse. I held on tightly to a tree trunk until the trembling stopped. My wife and children were in the house and thought that I had died because they saw collapsed houses all around them. After the earthquake we went to live in a camp and lived in a tent. While I was there, a HelpAge nurse referred me to the organisation’s geriatric unit at the local hospital. Without HelpAge and the hospital staff, me and my friends here, we would all be dead. Nobody was doing anything to help us before.”

HelpAge International is launching the UNJUST campaign – the first ever campaign focused on addressing the needs of older people affected by humanitarian emergencies – which calls for more inclusive policies for older people in emergencies (both for older people to be better supported and for them to be allowed to actively participate during emergency and recovery situations).

As the numbers of older people affected by humanitarian crises and disasters increase, humanitarian agencies need to adapt policy and practice to ensure that the needs of older people are consistently and continually considered and that this vulnerable group is no longer neglected.


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