Disaster Resilience in an Ageing World: How to make policies and programmes inclusive of older people

from HelpAge International
Published on 15 May 2014 View Original


The world is changing rapidly. Globalisation offers endless economic opportunities, but also has costs. Unsustainable land use and biodiversity loss are happening at an unprecedented speed. Global warming has seen a rise in temperature of about 0.8°C in the past century (with about two-thirds of this increase occurring since 1980),1 leading to greater environmental and climatic risks. A report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014 warned that climate change has become a threat to life and livelihoods while also being a factor in the rise of mega-disasters.2 These changes are occurring alongside rapid population growth and population ageing. The world population has quadrupled to 7 billion people in just over 100 years. Today, people aged over 60 constitute 11 per cent of the global population.

By 2050, this proportion will have doubled, to 22 per cent – that is, 2 billion older people. Populations are ageing most rapidly in developing countries, which are currently home to 60 per cent of the world’s older people, projected to rise to 80 per cent by 2050.3 While the ageing population is to be celebrated, as it represents the triumph of development and improvements in healthcare, the combination of more extreme climate events and an ageing population has the potential to increase older people’s vulnerability to risks and disasters, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

All too often, disasters (whether slow or rapid onset) result in avoidable and disproportionate loss of life and impoverishment among older people, whose vulnerabilities and capacities are overlooked, even though they have the same rights as other age groups to protection from physical and psychological harm.

With the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters, many countries are realising the importance of disaster preparedness and response planning and management. The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank estimate that every US$1 spent on risk reduction saves US$4-US$7 in costs associated with emergency response.4 Preparedness measures can significantly reduce the impact of disasters on people’s lives, livelihoods and assets, while some disasters like floods can be prevented entirely by investing in flood-resistant infrastructure. Robust preparedness plans also enable a rapid and more effective response when a disaster is unfolding.

Yet HelpAge has found that the needs and capacities of older people and other vulnerable groups are consistently overlooked in disaster preparedness planning, and consequently during the response. To give just a few examples: early warnings are not reaching people who have hearing problems; bedridden people are not assisted to evacuate; and emergency stockpiles do not contain medicines commonly used by older people (such as for diabetics or heart disease). This report explains that by taking some simple measures to include older people in the planning and implementation of disaster preparedness and response activities, the impact of disasters on older people’s lives and livelihoods can be significantly reduced, and older people can be supported to build more resilient livelihoods.