Humanitarian policy

An older woman in the Philippines after typhoon Ketsana, October 2009. There needs to be a greater understanding of older people's needs in humanitarian policy. Photo: Ed Gerlock/HelpAge International As well as assisting older people in our own emergency programmes, HelpAge works closely with national and international humanitarian actors to influence policy and practice to ensure the specific needs of older people are addressed.

In emergencies, older men and women are some of the most vulnerable due to age-related concerns.

However, older people also play crucial roles within families and communities and should be central to disaster response and recovery.

The principles of humanitarian action require humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance impartially, to focus on the most vulnerable and ensure they are included in assistance. However, evidence shows the needs and capacities of older people are often not reflected in the provision of humanitarian aid.

During needs assessments, the lack of data disaggregated by age and gender means older people's vulnerabilities are often not recognised. For example, older people's specific health needs will not be addressed if the numbers of people suffering from chronic conditions are not recorded.

Addressing the needs of the most vulnerable, including older people, cannot be an afterthought. To influence how humanitarian actors address the needs of older people, HelpAge carries out a number of activities, including:  

  • Carrying out research on specific issues such as the amount of humanitarian funding that is allocated to assist older people.
  • Developing training materials for humanitarian actors on the specific vulnerabilities and capacities of older people in emergencies.
  • Undertaking needs assessments in humanitarian crises and improving needs assessment practice in the humanitarian system.
  • Developing technical programmatic guidance on issues affecting older people such as, shelter, protection, health, nutrition and livelihoods.
  • Collaborating with organisations like Handicap International on operations and research to improve the humanitarian response for all vulnerable groups.
  • Seconding specialists to The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help them mainstream ageing in field protection clusters.
  • Working with humanitarian organisations such as WHO, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs including Merlin to help them include older people in their work.
  • Engaging with key donors such as ECHO and DFID to ensure that they include ageing issues in their policies and funding.
  • Working with the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Working Group to raise awareness and include older people in the work of the UN humanitarian system. One outcome of this work is an IASC briefing paper on older people.
  • Taking part in the World Humanitarian Summit Consultations to ensure the recognition of the growing number of older men and women whose needs are not addressed during disaster response.

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