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Older people main victims of recent Argentina floods

09 May 2013

Older people are more vulnerable in emergency situations. Silvia Gascon is the Director of the Gerontology programme at Isalud University, Argentina. She is also a member of the HelpAge International Board. 

On 2 April, an extremely violent storm hit the city of La Plata, just outside the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires. In only a few hours, nearly 400 millimetres of water fell. Official reports state that 52 people died in the floods. Communications systems collapsed and many families lost all their belongings. Shockingly about 70% of those who died were over 60.

In an article published in the Diario Popular on Sunday 7 April, the journalist Natalia Muñiz highlighted that "the speed with which the water rose and the force of the advancing floods, razing everything in its path, trapped many older people. Some disabled people sought refuge in the houses and apartments of their neighbours. Many drowned, swept away by the torrents or by trying to help others."

Vulnerability of older people in disasters

The high proportion of older casualties highlights the vulnerability of older women and men in such situations. It is therefore essential to implement plans and strategies to prevent and manage disasters, which bear the particular needs of this age group in mind.

In this vein, "Lazos de la red mayor", a journal on ageing issues, has included a guide on the subject, which says: "It is generally recognised that older people are a highly vulnerable group in disaster situations. However, there are little efforts to address these vulnerabilities, meet their needs or recognise their extraordinary abilities and contributions in mitigating the impact of disasters."

We also fully share HelpAge's view that older people can contribute in many different ways in disaster situations. These include:

  • Planning for the potential impact of disasters. Older people's experiences and knowledge can be very important and it is likely that they have lived through similar situations.
  • Providing help in distributing food, collecting donations and identifying and supporting those in need. In general, older people know their communities and the needs of their residents.

Older people part of the recovery

Hundreds of older people who were not affected by the storm have worked to help the victims in each neighbourhood hit by the disaster. Adelia Di Tondo, 81, of the Sub-Commission of the Third Age in Villa Elvira said: "We were packing food and cleaning supplies to deliver to those affected."

Elsa Esther Allende, 71, told us about her experience of the floods: "My husband told me to hurry and get out, but I couldn't because my crutches were stuck in the water. I could barely move and my son told me to hold onto his neck, which is how I made it out of the house."

La Plata has suffered and will continue to suffer the consequences of the flood for a long time. Entire families and neighbourhoods remain desolate and helpless. However, people also showed their solidarity and made us all proud. We should work together to build this city again, but this time with people of all ages in mind.

Find out more about HelpAge's work to support older people in emergencies.

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Silvia Gascon
 
Job title: Gerontology, Isalud University, Argentina

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.