This section focuses exclusively on ageing and older persons as another section of the website is dedicated to Child Protection with all the needed information. To go directly to Child Protection, please click here.
Older persons are affected in much the same way as other groups in their communities by a sudden upheaval of their environment, including the disruption of family and social networks, separation from care-providers, loss of assistive devices and access to basic services and timely, regular and specialized health services. However, complex emergencies and disasters also have a specific adverse impact on different age groups. Such differences lead to a range of different humanitarian needs, which must be taken into account for the delivery of impartial, needs-based humanitarian aid.
Contrary to common belief, many older persons are actively excluded by their own families and communities in the competition for goods and services at times of emergency. Even when willing to assist and protect, families and care-providers are often overwhelmed by the crisis and are unable to provide the levels of support older people require. Although families should be recognised and supported as the entity where coping mechanisms are best set up, the common assumption of a “safety net” that would automatically protect older persons may also be questioned, as it further contributes to their neglect in emergency situations.
The specific humanitarian needs of older persons are often not adequately assessed or not assessed, thus contributing to a breach of the humanitarian principle of impartiality. Most humanitarian practitioners still largely view the specific needs related to age as an afterthought, to be considered if and when time and resources are available. The common assumption that the specific needs of older people are met as part of the overall humanitarian effort is incorrect. Older persons often face significant difficulties in accessing goods and services provided as part of the humanitarian effort, and, when they do, these goods and services are often inappropriate. The exclusion of older people from humanitarian assistance programmes also constitutes a violation of their human rights. Older persons are often referred to as an “invisible” group within the affected population because humanitarian aid does not adequately reach them. Providing humanitarian assistance in a way which is adapted to the needs of older people often requires only minor adjustments. A huge difference can be made in several sectors of assistance by introducing marginal and often cost-free changes, for example, including handrails in the design of latrines, organising separate distribution queues for older people and people with disabilities, or using more friendly means of communication accessible to all.
The key resource humanitarian practitioners can refer to when considering ageing concerns is Older People in Emergencies – Identifying and Reducing Risks produced by HelpAge, in 2012. This short, 13-page document systematically reviews the main risks (defined as potential adverse consequences of a crisis) older people are exposed to in emergency situations. It is intended for humanitarian practitioners and emergency managers involved in the design and implementation of emergency programmes. For each risk, under “key actions” the document also lists simple measures that can be taken within the standard programming and funding parameters of humanitarian organisations to reduce risks for older people in emergencies. Read more.
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