Nepal earthquake: Older people among most vulnerable

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By Jane Scobie

A powerful earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale struck an area between Nepal's capital Kathmandu and the city of Pokhara at 11:41am local time on Saturday 25 April. Tremors have been felt across the region in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

Death toll rising rapidly

Nepal home ministry officials now say nearly 2,000 people were killed and almost 5,000 were injured.

HelpAge South Asia Regional Director in Nepal, Peter McGeachie said:

"We have serious concerns for the areas in between the two cities. No information is available from them at the moment.

"We are in contact with UN and local authorities to carry out an urgent assessment of the situation and plan our response."

Older people among most vulnerable

Around 9% of Nepal's population of 27 million is 60 or over. There is strong evidence that older persons suffer disproportionately from disasters even in developed countries.

In 2005, 75% of those killed by Hurricane Katrina were over 60 but made up just 15% of the population in New Orleans. In 2011, 56% of those who died in the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami were 65 and over, despite comprising just 23% of the population.

Nepal ranks at number 30 in HelpAge's Disaster Risk and Age Index, which assesses the the disaster risk faced by older people in 190 countries.

"Older people bear the initial brunt of disasters often because they cannot flee," said HelpAge International's Chief Executive, Toby Porter.

"This is compounded by the lack of essential medications for older people, such as those to treat diabetes, being available after disasters. And the mental fall-out from disasters is huge. Older women and men are ready to help others but are often too proud to help themselves."

Rapid response

The HelpAge network has extensive experience of responding quickly to the needs of older people in the region.

HelpAge India has a disaster response model that is equipped to rush in quickly to reach out, not only to older people, but also to the wider community. At times of large scale disasters this model provides rapid relief in the form of food, clothing and shelter.

How you can help

Donate now to help survivors of this devastating earthquake.

For latest updates follow @helpage on Twitter.