Sudan: Older people are neglected in Darfur, warns HelpAge International

from HelpAge International
Published on 11 Apr 2005
A health and nutrition assessment by HelpAge International, in five camps in West Darfur, found older people felt isolated and lonely because of food insecurity.
On average, people over the age of 50 comprise 10% of a camp's population.

Although older people, along with children, are classed as a vulnerable group, many interviewed were not being directly targeted by aid agencies.

Over 20% of older people were not accessing World Food Programme food rations, with this figure rising to 26% in one camp.

45% of older people claimed not to have proper shelter.

61% of older people claimed to have a chronic disease that needed specialised treatment or drugs, which were not available to them

Around 29% were caring for orphaned children, but still not targeted by humanitarian organisations for supplementary food aid.

Not enough food

The research found few older people had adequate food, either in quality or quantity. Around 20% were only eating one meal a day. Often they were sharing rations with orphaned and separated children - not always related - in their care. Those not receiving food had missed out on registration due to disability.

Health problems

Eye health was the most common health problem and 19% of those interviewed had severely impaired vision, due to blindness or other eye problems. Along with dental infections, this was a contributing factor to the poor access and consumption levels of adequate food, therefore increasing the risk of malnutrition in older people.

All alone

Half of all the older people interviewed by HelpAge International live alone. Most are widows without extended family support.

Ishak, aged 75, lives on his own in Um Tajouk Camp for internally displaced persons. He lost contact with his wife and daughter when his village was attacked. He spends his days in his house, lying on a worn out mat. Because of his failing eyesight, Ishak needs help to move around the camp.

One of his two items of clothing is a faded old white garment torn at the back. Ishak says his needs are simple. "An additional blanket and clothes and going back to cobbling, something I'm used to, will be really great".

Helping older pople

One of ways in which HelpAge International has been working with older people in camps is through helping them set up older people's support groups, to identify and monitor other older people not getting aid. House-to-house visits are undertaken to help identify those who may have been missed by the registration process.

Helpage International is currently working in six camps in West Darfur and is planning a health and nutrition programme which will:

Establish and support mobile eye camps in order to screen and treat eye problems.

Support geriatric training for health staff so that care for older people is improved.

Promote hygiene and health at household level through older people's committees in order to reduce disease and ill health.

Improve referral system for patients with special attention to referred older people with chronic diseases.

Susan Erb, Darfur Programme Manager says: "Older people have been disproportionately affected by the Darfur crisis and left without any support. Many humanitarian agencies focus on other vulnerable groups such as children and women, but older people are equally needy and in danger of becoming the most marginalised group in Darfur."

For a copy of the Health and Nutrition Assessment of Older People - West Darfur, email HelpAge International's World Wide Emergencies programme.