For countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, natural disasters are common. We experience droughts, earthquakes, floods, forest fires, hurricanes, landslides, tsunamis, and volcanoes. Internal conflicts also cause internal displacement and mass migration.
But what happens to older people when these disasters and crisis strike?
Often, older people are left out of humanitarian responses. Everyone has the right to safe and dignified access to humanitarian assistance, but older people are frequently discriminated against and denied their rights.
Older people’s experiences
In 2018, a hurricane caused flooding in the Dominican Republic. Nila’s home was damaged and she describes how her health was at risk because she couldn’t receive the care she needed. “I came down with a bad flu and I was unable to receive medical care” she said.
In 2014, a landslide hit an indigenous reservation in Colombia, destroying 26 homes in the village of Los Robles. Jesus, an older leader of the Nasa indigenous group was trained in reducing disaster risk. Older people like Jesus, must be included in humanitarian response activities but often humanitarian workers don’t think to include them.
Taking action on World Humanitarian Day
On World Humanitarian Day (19 August), the HelpAge network will campaign to raise awareness of older people’s rights in emergencies. They will send a message to humanitarian actors, governments and service providers, calling for them to include older people in disaster, crisis and risk management strategies.
HelpAge Network members from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru and Argentina will organise ADA campaign activities. In Argentina, the South Regional Network (Red Regional Sur) will share older people’s experiences of the flood that took place in 2013 in La Plata with the government, humanitarian organisations and civil society.
In Peru, our network members Mesa de Trabajo de ONGs and Afines sobre Personas Adultas Mayores will campaign for older people to be trained in emergency response in regions throughout the country. They will also work with Voluntariado Surcano, a group of 35 older women who have been working in the humanitarian field for 20 years. In Haiti, a documentary about the challenges older people face in humanitarian crisis will be developed by Mesa de Concertación sobre los Problemas de las Personas Mayores en Haití (Table de Concertation sur la problématique des personnes âgées en Haïti.
Raising awareness of the rights and needs of older people is a crucial step in reducing their marginalisation during crises. The aim of this campaign is to create an enabling environment for older people so they can participate in humanitarian response activities, and across society.