New study reveals lack of humanitarian funding for older people and children


By Attila Kulscar

A new HelpAge report – endorsed by Save the Children UK - reveals that the needs of older people and young children are ignored in emergency responses around the world.

The research, "Disasters and diversity: a study of humanitarian financing for older people and children under five" reveals that very low numbers of humanitarian projects target these groups. Izzat Mai, 60, from Pakistan and her grandchildren. Izzat Mai, 60, from Pakistan cares for her grandchildren. Her house was badly damaged in flooding. She found it difficult to compete with younger people at aid distribution points. (c) HelpAge International

Older people and children under five are highly sensitive to shocks associated with humanitarian crises. Both face a range of specific risks associated with their age, including access to adequate healthcare and nutrition.

Older people

Despite this issue being highlighted in our previous humanitarian financing research, the report found that still only 1% of funded projects target older people.

Out of 2,800 project proposals submitted to the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP – led by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) only 60 project proposals included at least one activity targeting older people, and only 30 of these were actually funded.

This figure is clearly unacceptable when older people make up as much as 25% of the population in some emergency contexts.

Older people face specific challenges in emergencies related to mobility, visual and aural impairments which affect their ability to access mainstream humanitarian services. Agencies therefore need to modify their programmes by introducing, for example, separate queues for distributions of aid. Older people also require vital livelihoods support to meet their needs and those of their dependants.

Children under five

The study also examined project proposals submitted for children under five, finding that only 2.3% of projects targeted them.

Out of the 2,800 proposals submitted, only 111 projects included at least one activity targeting children under five, and 65 were funded. Although slightly better than the data for older people, these numbers highlight the fact that humanitarian operations are not focused on meeting the specific needs of vulnerable age groups.

Given the fact that children make up approximately 14.9% of the population in Africa - as well as the traditional media emphasis put on assistance to children - HelpAge expected the specific needs of children to be significantly better represented.

Assistance should be based on need

Frances Stevenson, Head of Emergencies at HelpAge International, said: “The findings of this report are sadly in line with a growing body of evidence showing the limited ability of humanitarian operations to deliver assistance based on need. We know that people have different healthcare, nutrition, livelihoods and general protection needs as they grow older.

“The fact that there are countries in which older people’s particular needs are completely ignored is completely unacceptable and raises serious questions for the humanitarian community, not least because the situation constitutes a breach of the humanitarian principle of impartiality.”

Gareth Owen, Humanitarian Director of Save the Children UK, said: “We know children are always the most vulnerable in emergencies, but despite this, the sector still finds it difficult to fund projects that specifically target them.

"Children caught up in humanitarian crises are more likely to become ill, suffer the effects of malnutrition, be separated from their parents and are at greater risk of being targeted for physical and sexual abuse. The system must be reformed so the needs of children are prioritised in emergencies.”


It is crucial that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, leading agencies, humanitarian coordinators and donors provide an environment which encourages programming based on an accurate assessment of needs. We therefore recommend that:

  • The humanitarian community addresses its evident breach of impartiality and delivers needs-based humanitarian programmes.
  • Humanitarian partners ensure assessments provide accurate data on all vulnerable groups in assessments that is disaggregated by sex and age.
  • Project design be based on analysis of assessment data and existing good practice to ensure humanitarian assistance is accessible to all those affected.

Download the report, "Disasters and diversity: a study of humanitarian financing for older people and children under five" (551kb)

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  • Paul Osarfo Agyare (24 October 2013)

    In fact the H.Relief programs should factor the local people since they will best help to explain the actual needs of the people.What will solve one immediate need or problem might not necessarily be an intidote for another because of individual differences.Expert analysis of every eventuality is needed before H.Relief excercises.

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