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If not now, when?

Keeping promises to older people affected by humanitarian crisis

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.  

If not now, when?

Older people, despite the risks they face during emergencies, are marginalised and in some cases excluded by the humanitarian aid response. If not now, when? provides urgent recommendations for humanitarian actors, donors and agencies for an inclusive humanitarian response for older people.


Read the report now (PDF, 4 MB)

This report looks at the extent to which older people’s rights are being upheld in emergencies and their needs met. The picture it paints is a bleak one. Although some efforts are being made to support older people, overall, the humanitarian system is failing by the standards it has set itself.

The time to act is now

The report draws on the findings of needs assessments carried out by HelpAge International in the 13 months to the end of 2019. In total, we interviewed 8,883 people aged 50 to 80-plus affected by natural disasters, conflict or socioeconomic crises in 11 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

Breaking point

Since the data was collected, COVID-19 has swept across the globe. The pandemic has both increased the need for humanitarian aid and disrupted its delivery. The response to coronavirus has thrown into stark relief the gulf between the risks older people are facing and the level of support available to them. The findings in this report provide important lessons for improving this response.

Time for change

The findings in this report reflect a longstanding neglect of older people in humanitarian crises. Successive research studies have consistently shown the damaging impact of the collective neglect of older people. Core humanitarian principles are not being respected.

The humanitarian community must stand in solidarity with older people, addressing the issues revealed by this report that have contributed totheir exclusion from humanitarian assistance, and fulfil its commitment to deliver humanitarian responses in accordance with humanitarian principles.

This can be achieved by putting recommendations outlined in the report into practice. 

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

Stories from the ground 

The impact of humanitarian crises on older people can be devastating, particularly when essential services are unavailable to them. The findings of our assessments are clear: older people’s basic needs are often unmet and their rights denied.

Throughout the report we highlight the voices of older people and the impact of unmet needs has had on them. 

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