Older people: the hidden casualties of the Israel-Gaza conflict

The unfolding events in Israel and Gaza are having a devastating impact on older people caught up in the conflict, said Chris McIvor, director of global impact at HelpAge International. 


HelpAge is calling for urgent action to address the needs and vulnerabilities of older people.  


Older people are often overlooked or unnoticed in times of crisis, but it is impossible to under-estimate what a significant impact this continuing conflict will be having on the older population. They will be enduring the profound mental and physical consequences that are particularly acute in older age and come to the fore in times of crisis.

Chris McIvor, Director of Global Impact at HelpAge.

“Older people are also amongst those held hostage by Hamas and we have profound concerns for their wellbeing. If any need medication or any kind of support, their exposure to risk is increased by the already debilitating psychological trauma they will be facing.” 


“For those displaced from their homes, they will find the hardships that everyone is facing even harder to manage. Most will not have access to the essentials that older people need to get by – whether that is food and water, urgent medication, walking devices, family support or healthcare systems – all of which are already in short supply in Gaza.  

“For those who have remained at home the lack of security and trauma of bombardment will be especially profound.” 

Prior to the escalation of hostilities on 7 OctoberGaza’s older people were already living with high levels of poverty and inequality. The current conflict will be exacerbating pre-existing conditions, while the destruction of vital services and limited flow of supplies, will present overwhelming challenges.  

HelpAge partners who work in the Gaza have been sharing details about the impact the bombardment is having on older people, many of whom have been displaced or need urgent medication or healthcare. 

Dr Mohammed Elia, a Gaza-based representative of Juzoor, a partner of HelpAge who works across Palestine, highlighted the challenges:  

“The ongoing violence has disrupted the healthcare system, making it increasingly difficult for older people to access essential medications and the medical care they require. The constant fear and anxiety stemming from the unrelenting airstrikes are also taking a significant toll on their mental and emotional well-being. They live in a state of perpetual distress, uncertain about their safety and the future.” 

Those who have been displaced have access to very few resources and comfort. Juzoor reported that many have been forced to abandon the essentials that help them to survive, like their walking sticks and wheelchairs, crucial medicines, and personal belongings. They are forced to sleep on the ground, which further exacerbates the physical discomfort many face in older age.  

Across Gaza people are struggling to find drinking water so another of HelpAge’s partners, El Wedad, is actively distributing water extracted from wells in people’s back yards to those in need.  

For those older individuals who have survived and been displaced by the conflict, their living conditions are nothing short of miserable. They have sought refuge in schools and hospital courtyards, where they are confronted with dire challenges and are struggling to meet their most basic needs, such as food, clean water, and essential medications.

Dr Mohmmed Ellia from Juzoor

Chris McIvor concluded: “We all have the right to live out our later years in dignity and with respect. We urge all humanitarian actors to pay special heed to the vulnerabilities of older people. They can be easy to overlook, but their needs are often the most acute and their rights to care and support should be addressed as a matter of urgency. Older people should not be ignored and left as the hidden, neglected casualties of war and conflict.”  


In 2021, HelpAge worked with its partners to conduct a needs assessment of older people in Gaza and found the following. 

  • 97% had at least one health condition  
  • 80% reported that they used or required medicine or medical items.   
  • 86% had at least one disability 
  • 45% were going to bed hungry at least one night per week. 
  • 39% faced difficulties with accessing and using drinking water, handwashing, or bathing facilities. 
  • 78% reported that they felt anxious all or most the time while 52% reported they felt depressed all or most of the time. 
  • 44% older people surveyed stated they were completely dependent on family members/others to meet their basic needs.