Respond to humanitarian crises

During internal conflict, war or natural disasters, communities and public services are shattered. It is often older people who are the most affected, but the most overlooked.

A large and rapidly growing number of older people are affected by humanitarian crises. The proportion of the population aged 50 and over in fragile countries, where conflict and disasters are more likely to occur, is expected to rise from 12.3 per cent (219.9 million) in 2020 to 19.2 per cent (586.3 million) in 2050.

A radical shift is needed. Older people must have a say in the decisions that affect them, and be able to get the support they need.

Governments and international organisations have made a number of commitments in recent years to take account of older people’s needs. However, change has been slow.

Out of sight, out of mind

In emergency response, older people are typically overlooked in favour of larger, more visible groups. They are rarely consulted and are often missed out when data and information is collected so, their needs are unknown. Without information, humanitarian work often relies on outdated assumptions about older people.

Addressing older people’s needs is often thought of as an activity for specialist agencies, or something to be done if extra time and resources are available.

Emergency help such as shelters, water supplies, toilets and health centres are rarely designed for people with disabilities or limited mobility.

Older people face numerous barriers that see them excluded from humanitarian response, including:

  • Food distribution points can be difficult for older people to reach and food aid packages do not cater for older people’s particular nutritional requirements.
  • Older people who are physically unable to flee are often left behind, isolated from their family and communities.
  • Health conditions such as diabetes and dementia are common in older people in many low- and middle-income countries. The medicine is often not available or in short supply, while health services are disrupted. This can become life-threatening for older people.
  • Older people are often left-out of programmes to help people recover their livelihoods such as micro-credit (loan) schemes.
  • Organisations often deliver a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach in response to humanitarian crises without understanding the specific barriers that older people face.

'If not now, when?' report

This report looks at the extent to which older people’s rights are being upheld in emergencies and their needs met. The picture it paints is a bleak one. Although some efforts are being made to support older people, overall, the humanitarian system is failing by the standards it has set itself.

Report - If not now, when?

Our research

Our research paints a bleak picture of the situation of older people in humanitarian emergencies. Analysis of nearly 9,000 interviews with older people found that:
  • 64 %

    do not receive enough to eat

  • 77 %

    have no income

  • 20 %

    have no shelter

  • 25 %

    have no safe drinking water

  • 62 %

    have no bathing facilities

What is HelpAge International doing?

We are seeking to change the humanitarian support system, making it more accountable and ensuring that older people are not excluded in the response.

This includes:

  • Working with governments and international organisations to make sure older people are consulted and their needs addressed as part of all humanitarian work.
  • Gathering evidence about how older people are affected in crises and identify the barriers that prevent them from getting support.
  • Developing approaches that show how older people’s rights can be upheld in crises.
  • Providing technical advice and support to humanitarian organisations on how to include older people in their work.

CHS Alliance

HelpAge is a proud member of the CHS Alliance –  a global alliance of humanitarian and development organisations committed to making aid work better for people. We believe organisations deliver higher quality, more effective aid when they are accountable to the people they serve.

40 years of making this world a better place to grow old in.