Ethiopia: Food and safety highest priorities for older refugees in Gambella


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Gambella, 3rd March 2020: Older refugees from South Sudan living in camps in Ethiopia need more food and safe access to bathrooms and toilets, HelpAge International said today following a study of the needs of older people living in the Gambella refugee camps.

They are short of money and do not have the opportunity to earn a living. They also struggle to access safe bathroom and toilet facilities and are vulnerable from physical and psychosocial problems.

A need for more food was ranked as the highest priority amongst the older people surveyed by HelpAge in the Gambella camps, one quarter of whom regularly go to bed hungry. Three quarters of them are not able to get hold of enough food and eat an average of only 1.7 meals a day.

Eighty-two per cent of older people reported that they did not receive enough food in the monthly rations that are provided for refugees, and more than half said that what is provided does not suit their needs. Accessing the markets presents a further challenge – where they said food is available – with 67% saying that they do not feel safe to do so and 23% unable to afford the food there.

Safety is another major issue for older people in Gambella. Most felt unsafe using bathing and toilet facilities in the camps, while two thirds felt unsafe accessing food and more than half did not feel safe to access healthcare.

“Older refugees make up only a small proportion of the total number of refugees and, as a result, are often not prioritised in the humanitarian response. But as one of the most vulnerable groups, their needs must not be overlooked by those who should be taking care of their needs,” said Sisay Seyoum, Ethiopia Country Director, HelpAge International.

95% of the older people living in camps are also responsible for the care of children and other older people, including those with a disability. Many of these older carers are themselves dependent on support from others. This can cause protection risks, for example when children they care for are tasked with collecting drinking water, exposing them to risk of violence and abuse in public spaces, particularly girls.

Aid programmes in Ethiopia’s refugee camps need to be designed to meet the specific needs of older people as they are rarely consulted about what humanitarian support they need. 49% did not know how to give their opinion or make a complaint meaning that humanitarian agencies are not getting feedback that would help improve their programmes.

Given that South Sudanese refugee camps have been open in Gambella since 2014, the lack of consultation and inability of older people to give feedback needs to be addressed.

“It is important that the specific needs of older people are factored into the delivery of aid in Gambella. A meaningful consultation needs to be carried out as a matter of urgency followed by the roll out of a programme of action that is designed to meet the specific needs of older people,” said Sisay Seyoum.

Note to editors:

The report is based on an assessment of the lives of 445 older refugees currently living in Kule camp which is representative of all the Gambella camps in terms of the age and gender of the residents. The data was gathered by staff from HelpAge International in Ethiopia in October 2019. There are more than 310,000 refugees from South Sudan in Ethiopia today and they make up nearly half of the total refugee population in the country. Most live in the refugee camps in Gambella.


For media contact, please contact Anteneh Teshome, Communications officer, HelpAge International, Ethiopia.

Tel: +251911735092 / Email: