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Humanitarian sector neglecting older people, exacerbated by COVID-19

Author: Age International
Published on 26 November 2020 12:00 AM

A new report from aid agencies Age International and HelpAge International, If not now, when? criticises the humanitarian sector for its failure to address the needs of older people in emergencies. This failure contravenes several international commitments made in recent years and flies in the face of humanitarian principles.  

The report uses information gathered from interviews with almost 9,000 older people affected by natural disasters, conflict or socioeconomic crises in 11 countries, including Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia and Pakistan. 

It shows how older people, despite the risks they face during emergencies, are often marginalised and in some cases excluded by the humanitarian aid response. Consequently, humanitarian responses are not meeting older people’s basic needs; of the older people surveyed, 64 per cent did not have enough to eat and more than three-quarters (77%) had no income.  

Humanitarian needs assessments and humanitarian response plans in the 11 countries covered by the report shows that age-disaggregated data for older people was included in only three: Syria, South Sudan and Venezuela. And this can often influence the level of funding available for older people.

The report criticises the humanitarian sector for adopting a ‘one size fits all’ aid approach which fails to take into account the specific needs of older people and stops many older people from accessing even general services.

It found that 39 per cent of older people surveyed could not reach aid distribution points independently and whilst almost all (98%) had a medical condition, almost half said there was no medicine available (49%) and that health services were too expensive (46%).  

This situation has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has thrown into stark relief the gulf between the risks facing older people and the level of support available to them.  

If not now, when? provides urgent recommendations for humanitarian actors, donors and agencies for an inclusive humanitarian response for older people.  

The full report and executive summary are available to download below. 

“The findings of our report show how the humanitarian system is systematically failing older people in what is tantamount to neglect. In spite of making promises, older people are consistently being left behind.  

“There is a further risk that the ability to fulfil commitments to older people in humanitarian settings will be compromised, if governments reduce their aid commitments. 

“Our recommendations can help the humanitarian sector respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in a better way for older people. There is no excuse for their neglect and we should be doing better. As COVID-19 has shown now, more than ever, is the time to fix it.

Ken Bluestone | Head of Policy and Influencing at Age International and co-author

Download the report

You can also find more information about our report on our humanitarian response page.

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Last updated: Nov 26 2020

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