11 January 2012
HelpAge International warns: "Two years on, we cannot continue to let older people's rights be ignored."
Over 200,000 older people were directly affected by the Haiti earthquake of 12 January 2010. Since then, HelpAge International has delivered aid to 25,000 older Haitians whose lives were shattered by the earthquake.
However, two years on, thousands of older Haitians' lives are far from back to normal. Older Haitians, who must be central to the rebuilding of their country, are facing increased discrimination.
In late 2011, HelpAge International mobilised 6,500 older citizens to take to the streets and claim their housing rights. After announcements that Haiti would be "built back better", older Haitians are not fairly benefitting from new building projects. Housing is still the most critical need, as 550,000 people are still living in grim and over-populated camps. However, as these become permanent, older people are often overlooked in resettlement efforts.
Currently, older people only automatically benefit from housing assistance if they live with their eligible adult children. Older people who live alone or with grandchildren dependent on their care are often overlooked. This is despite the high number of older Haitians who selflessly prioritise feeding or financially supporting their grandchildren with their limited resources.
Living with discrimination is familiar to earthquake survivor Gilbert Basquin. Gilbert, 66, lives in Tapis Rouge camp in Port-au-Prince. Gilbert's house was destroyed by the earthquake. He benefitted from HelpAge's cash transfer scheme and received a ToughStuff Kit immediately after the earthquake, which includes a solar-powered lamp and radio.
He said: "There is a feeling at the moment that older people should be set aside because they have failed their country and it's time to let the younger generation lead.
"Old age is still the root of the tree and the branches cannot grow if the root is not sturdy. I still believe that older people can be very useful."
This is echoed by HelpAge International Country Director, Judith Larivière, who said:
"Open discrimination against older people in Haiti is rife; they are just not considered as an important part of society. There is a consensus that they have lived their lives and that others must come first.
"HelpAge International conducted focus group research with older people in camps, which highlighted that older people believe they were not well treated. They said that they received little assistance from the government, whether it be resources, training or healthcare.
"They feel isolated and marginalised. Some are victims of abuse, often due to their physical weakness and poor living conditions. Two years on we cannot continue to let older people's rights be ignored."
The focus group also revealed that, besides housing, food is an urgent priority for older people. In a Disasters Emergency Committee evaluation of HelpAge International's work in Haiti, 50% of older people surveyed spent nearly two days without eating. Equally, older people in Haiti do not have access to a pension. Therefore, whatever their age, they are working for survival.
On the second year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, HelpAge International is calling for an end to this discrimination. Through Age Demands Action, HelpAge International's global grassroots campaign to fight age discrimination, as well as the older people's associations founded by HelpAge International in camps, older people lobbied the Haiti government to ensure their needs in emergencies and rebuilding efforts were not ignored.
6,500 older people from 12 towns where HelpAge is working joined local marches, around 11,000 signed a campaign petition and 55 people aged 65-110 met Haiti's First Lady, Sophia Martelly at the National Palace, who pledged her support for the campaign.
Haiti is still very vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters. In these situations, older people's resilience is put to the test. HelpAge is working with its partners to bring older people's needs to the forefront of the national agenda, making sure they are never forgotten in an emergency.
In 2012, HelpAge will continue to work in Haiti to support older people affected by the earthquake. Work will focus on helping the most vulnerable older people to leave the camps and resettle them, securing incomes for older people by supporting older people's associations' work programmes and ensuring older people are better supported during future emergency responses and recovery situations.
HelpAge International is a global network of organisations helping older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. Age UK provides core funding to HelpAge International - www.helpage.org
Rachel Trayner: firstname.lastname@example.org , +44(0)207 148 7623, +44(0)7738982122, rachel.trayner.hai (Skype)
Judith Larivière, Country Director, HelpAge International Haiti: please contact Rachel Trayner to set up an interview.
For Gilbert Basquin's case study and a series of first-person interviews, photographs and film of older people living in Haiti on the second anniversary, please contact Rachel Trayner.
Age Demands Action is the only global campaign of its kind, launched in 2007 by HelpAge International, the global network fighting for the rights of older people. Find out more about our Age Demands Action campaign.
People can say "no" to age discrimination and support the Age Demands Action campaign by signing our open petition.
ToughStuff partnered with HelpAge International to provide thousands of personal solar-powered emergency kits that helped older people in Haiti without access to electricity. The kits provide light at night, bring entertainment and information through radio, and facilitate mobile cash transfer and micro-enterprise opportunities by providing mobile phone charging abilities.