London, 18 December 2012: Experts from the humanitarian organizations Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders and HelpAge International say emergency aid has failed to address the needs of older people in emergency situations and are calling on donors and humanitarian agencies to ensure that this vulnerable group is included in any emergency response.
Writing in this week’s PLOS Medicine, Dr Unni Karunakara, President of Médecins Sans Frontières, and Frances Stevenson, Head of Emergencies at HelpAge International argue:
“As the numbers of older people affected by humanitarian crises and disasters increase, humanitarian actors 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.”
The authors call for change:
“We call for policy changes by humanitarian agencies and donors to ensure that the needs of this vulnerable group are met.”
Older people are less likely to flee in times of conflict due to difficulties with travel and are reluctant to leave their homes, land and possessions. In addition, older people are often not sought out or prioritised within the humanitarian response. Many are not able to travel to health facilities, stand in queues for food distributions, carry heavy packages of food or containers of water, or compete with younger people for relief supplies.
According to the authors older people are often not cared for within their families despite the common assumption that they are supported within a family network. As an example, following the 2010 floods in Pakistan, around 10% of the older population was living without family support and in the camps for internally displaced people in Darfur in Sudan half of older people live alone.
“Humanitarian agencies, donors, and international bodies neglect older people’s health and nutrition.”
“Older people are not monitored in emergencies and they are not prioritised despite evidence of disproportionate mortality and morbidity in this group.”
Furthermore, there are considerable gaps in knowledge and research about the needs of older people in emergencies.