Missing millions: How older people with disabilities are excluded from humanitarian response
Up to 14 million older people with disabilities may be affected by humanitarian disasters. These people are among those most at risk, yet little is known about their particular experiences. Their rights and needs are widely overlooked in humanitarian response.
At the heart of humanitarian action are four principles: humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence. These principles afford everyone the right to safe and dignified access to humanitarian assistance and protection without discrimination and on an equal basis with others.
Humanitarian policy and programming is increasingly focusing on the inclusion of older people and people with disabilities. However, it is often assumed that older people and people with disabilities can be supported simply by implementing needs-based assistance; there is limited evidence and attention paid to the intersection of older age and disability, the particular experiences of older people with disabilities in humanitarian crises, and the extent to which their rights are upheld in humanitarian contexts.
The aim of this study was to explore the experiences of older people with disabilities across a range of humanitarian settings. The questions we asked were:
• Do older people with disabilities have additional needs and challenges accessing humanitarian assistance and protection?
• What factors facilitate or limit access by older people with disabilities to humanitarian assistance and protection?
• To what extent is humanitarian response inclusive of older people with disabilities?
We used several complementary methods to answer these questions. First, we conducted a systematic literature review of published studies that included research findings on older people with disabilities affected by humanitarian crises. We also reviewed key online humanitarian guidelines to explore how far they explicitly address older people with disabilities.We analysed data from six population-based disability surveys comparing the living situation of older people with and without disabilities. These included databases from two crises-affected populations in Haiti (post-earthquake) and Palestine. Given the scarcity of data available from humanitarian contexts, we also analysed data from four non-humanitarian settings to explore more broadly the situation for older people with disabilities – India, Guatemala, Cameroon and Nepal.We interviewed older people with disabilities, members of their families and local key informants in two conflict-affected populations in Ndutu and Mtendeli refugee camps in Western Tanzania, and Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Eastern Ukraine to find out about their experiences. We also interviewed staff of five international agencies working in humanitarian response to explore how their policies and programmes respond to the needs of older people with disabilities.