One year on: 1 in 5 older Haitians in camps going hungry


By Caroline Graham and Gaetan Duhamel

Renette lives in a temporary camp in Port-au-Prince with her two grandchildren. Renette, 76, lives in a temporary camp in Port-au-Prince. She cares for her two grandchildren. She received a cash grant from HelpAge which has allowed her to set up a business. Photo: Frederic Dupoux/HelpAge International Around 20% of older people living in temporary camps in Haiti are going hungry, according to a survey conducted by HelpAge International.

One year on from the earthquake, data shows that out of over 11,000 older people we interviewed, 2,330 eat only one meal or less a day.

Food aid distributions to camps for internally displaced people stopped in April 2010, at the request of the Haitian government.

Months later, reasonably priced food is extremely difficult to find. This situation looks set to get worse as global food prices hit record highs last week.

Older people prone to malnutrition

HelpAge's Protection Coordinator in Haiti, Gaetan Duhamel, said:

"Older people are a vulnerable group as much as children are. In many cases, older people living in the camps do not even get one regular meal a day and they are vulnerable to malnutrition.

"This is made worse by multi-faceted ageing conditions so the majority of older people are experiencing seriously compromised health and security.

"We are currently monitoring the situation and lobbying agencies such as the World Food Programme and other donors.

"In the meantime, HelpAge has increased our community and family support to vulnerable older people. Our cash transfer schemes are providing over 5,000 older people with a one-off US$50 donation.

"We are also providing 2,500 older people with a US$100 microcredit loan, and 4,000 with a monthly cash transfer."

Caring for vulnerable neighbours

"We have set up 87 older people's associations in as many camps. These older people's associations are run by older people and currently have 8,000 members.

"The associations help ensure older people are included in the relief effort. For example, they reinforce the idea of neighbours helping and caring for hungry and malnourished older people by cooking and sharing meals together.

"We have also provided cash-for-work opportunities for over 200 home carers who conduct daily visits to sick and hungry older people in camps.

"The carers are all older people themselves and the programme enables them to earn money to feed themselves and their dependants."

Forgotten by donors

Despite being identified as the most vulnerable group in the aftermath of the earthquake, a year later, older people continue to be forgotten by international donors, another HelpAge report has shown.

Of 321 projects included for funding in the UN Flash Appeals for Haiti, 5% referred to older people's needs. Only 0.6% of these projects included activities specifically targeted towards older people.

Moreover, none of these 0.6% of projects were actually funded. In other words, the UN's Flash Appeals have not funded a single project that provides specifically targeted support for older people.

The report, A study of humanitarian financing for older people, reveals a significant gap in the amount of funding allocated from UN coordinated appeals to older people in humanitarian emergencies, including the Haiti earthquake response.

The study looked at the UN's Flash and Consolidated Appeals Process as an indication of international commitment to older people's needs. (It did not look at bilateral donor funding or private donations.)

Much remains to be done

Richard Blewitt, Chief Executive of HelpAge International says:

"There is a belief that older people are always protected and cared for in their extended families. This is often not the case when crises cause confusion and social breakdown, and as social change results in more nuclear families. HelpAge has had significant achievements in Haiti over the last year but so much more remains to be done."

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Comments submitted for this page

  • Kuldeep Sagar (03 February 2011)

    The report us very well written with analysis. I am sure people will come to know how OPs are being side lined in the rehabilitation.

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Watch our audio slideshow to find out how we are supporting older Haitians

Click here to read more about Louise.

Louise, 60, lives in a camp in Port-au-Prince. She is the sole provider for her three grandchildren and three children.

Since July, she has worked as a home-based carer for HelpAge.

She said: "The main problem I see in my work is that older people are not getting enough to eat. It gives me pain in my heart when I visit them and I see they haven't eaten for two or three days."

Read the rest of Louise's story.


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Our work in Haiti is funded by Age UK (through the DEC), HelpAge USA, AARP, HelpAge Deutschland.