Southern Africa: More focus needed for elderly during crises
Research by the organisation found that older women faced chronic vulnerability due to a lifetime of gender-based disadvantage. A large proportion were likely not to have had any formal education and to suffer chronic untreated health conditions.
For older men, status in the household and community was often linked to their ability to bring in income and provide for family members. A lifetime of gender-defined roles inhibited them from shifting their attention to household activities, and they often lacked the social support networks available to women.
Both men and women felt that when they became older they were excluded from community organisations and community decision making and action, despite the fact that were once active and important in these fields.
The humanitarian crisis in Southern Africa, which has left over 14 million people dependent on relief food, has made life even more difficult for the elderly.
"Many old people are the poorest in the population because they have no basic pension," Sarah Graham-Browne, Helpage International's media officer told IRIN.
In Southern Africa, only Namibia, Botswana and South Africa provide a government pension and in many cases this meagre amount has to be shared with a large number of dependants.
"They have to keep on working well into their old age and in many cases the returns are very small. When there is a food crisis they are particularly hard hit, and because of HIV/AIDS, they are increasingly not getting remittances from younger members of the family. They're caring for orphaned children and ill adults and many are coping with the double blow of HIV/AIDS and the food crisis," Graham-Browne said.
In the report prepared for the Second World Assembly on Ageing earlier this year, Helpage said older women and men responded differently in a crisis and had different needs. Older women were more likely to be caring for children and bringing up orphaned or abandoned grandchildren.
Older people were usually less mobile and often in poor health and needed to be able to access relief distribution points without queuing at length for supplies. They needed help carrying their supplies back home, and the food aid provided needed to be suited to their compromised digestion.
Social restrictions on movement, speech and public exposure needed to be considered, and problems of shelter during disasters found older women in particular discomfort, the report said.
The organisation also found that most relief agencies' focus on short-term welfare was "mismatched" with elderly people's concerns about their long-term livelihood.
Graham-Brown said that Helpage International believed there should be greater inclusion of elderly people in planning relief programmes, and that the specific needs of the elderly should be appreciated.
"Older people need to engage with local authorities and make international communities and donors aware that they should be included in their programmes," she said.
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