Food, fuel and finance crisis

Rising food and fuel costs together with an ever-worsening financial conditions are affecting all of us. But for older people on an already low or no income, the situation is bleak. We take a look at why it’s happening, the toll it’s taking and what we could do about it.

What is the crisis?

This is a crisis within multiple crises. That’s because whenever there is an emergency, older people are often overlooked, their specific needs unanswered and their rights side-lined. Our concern is that this trio of crises – record food and fuel costs and financial volatility – will be no different, putting older people at risk of starvation, acute ill-health and extreme poverty.

How did we get to this point?

The pandemic radically stalled the economy, forcing governments and individuals to draw on their reserves. For older people in low- and middle-income countries, finding financial slack in already tight budgets was difficult. The pandemic forced millions to ration their outgoings, their food intake and call on the support of family and friends to survive.

FACT: 46% of older people in the Philippines were already below the poverty line before Covid-19

There is also scant social protection for older people: in many of the countries where HelpAge and our partners work, universal pensions and free health care simply don’t exist. And for many older people, it is simply not possible to go out and find work.

Riding out the huge financial shock of COVID-19 was always going to be hard but the Russian invasion of Ukraine, sent costs soaring at a time when cupboards were already bare.

What impact is this having on older people worldwide?

Older people in low- and middle-income countries are particularly susceptible to price hikes because they often struggle to make ends meet. A crisis of this scale forces many to look to their families and others for support. But when difficult decisions have to be made, older people are often deprioritised in favour of younger family members; older people may also choose to give their share to others in their family.

FACT: In a recent HelpAge survey in Ethiopia, 81% of older people said they had no income and 74% don’t have enough to eat

Things have just gotten worse

Download our report on the impact of the global food, fuel and finance crisis on older people – “Things have just gotten worse”.

It is based on research carried out in Argentina, Colombia, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Malawi, Mozambique, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Yemen.

Things have just gotten worse – Report

Why are prices soaring?

Food: 30% of the world’s wheat and barley comes from Ukraine and 36 countries rely on Ukraine and Russia for more than half their wheat. The war has meant that grain being cultivated isn’t making it out of the Russian-occupied Black Sea ports and the supplies getting through come with huge insurance premiums – so we have far less of our basic foodstuffs, at far higher prices.

Fuel:  The cost of fuel is a major concern for daily life, but it also has a potentially catastrophic impact on the effect on future harvests. High gas prices, needed to make fertilizer, and disruptions in supply, mean costs have tripled since 2020. This is forcing farmers everywhere to cut back on nutrients, which will affect yields at a time when countries need to grow more of their own crops to compensate for the absence of imported wheat and barley.

Finance: With a forty year high in the cost of fuel, less food is being produced and the price of essentials, including medicines, are now out of reach for many.

Take public transport – an essential for millions of older people whether that’s to get around, collect medicines at pharmacies, visit health facilities or sell produce at markets. Fuel costs suddenly make a bus journey too expensive. Older people can’t compensate by walking everywhere so there’s the very real prospect of isolated older people going hungry and getting sick.

And then there’s the climate crisis:

Droughts, floods, wildfires – all destroy harvests and kill livestock at a time we can least afford it and can result in forced mass displacement. This presents a real struggle for older people who might not be able to travel long distances.

FACT: There are 10 times as many people on the brink of starvation in Africa’s Sahel region today than in 2019

What is HelpAge doing?

There is no quick fix to any of these issues, but all change starts with accurate information. That’s why we’re working with our teams and partners on rapid needs assessments in multiple countries to better understand the realities facing older people on the frontline. That data is our route to ensuring older people’s rights and needs are considered.

Alongside, we are lobbying humanitarian agencies to include all older people in their emergency responses. A malnutrition response, for example, typically pivots around infants and pregnant/nursing mothers yet our teams are seeing rising cases of malnutrition in older people. We’re asking agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP) to include the nutritional needs of older people too.

Impact of the food, fuel and finance crisis on older people

We have conducted research on the impact of the global food, fuel and finance crisis on older people in 10 countries.

Access the policy briefs here: Argentina, Colombia, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Malawi, Mozambique, Philippines, Sri LankaTanzania and Yemen.

We have to work together to ensure older people aren’t left behind.

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