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HelpAge pleads for older persons in humanitarian responses

HelpAge International Press Release

By Henry Neondo
Tigrai Online, Nairobi, August 22, 2015

The rising numbers of older people globally has serious implications for humanitarian responses in crises as examples in South Sudan, Burundi and elsewhere have shown, says HelpAge International in a statement released to mark the World Humanitarian Day. 

According to HelpAge, the humanitarian needs of older men and women are often complex. Poor mobility, diminished strength, chronic disease and lack of family support often increase older people's vulnerability in such contexts where survival is a daily struggle.


According to Amleset Tewodros, HelpAge International Country Director in Tanzania said the older people and people with disabilities are disproportionately affected by armed conflict and disasters, yet less than 1% of international humanitarian aid is dedicated to them. They face significant difficulties accessing appropriate humanitarian goods and services.

World Humanitarian Day 2015's theme is "inspiring the world's humanity,” and the UN is encouraging people to share the stories of humanitarian workers and in turn "share humanity".

Marked every August 19, the World Humanitarian Day is a time to recognise the selfless dedication and spirit of aid workers across the world who put their own lives at risk to help others in need.

Globally, older people are on the rise. Yet, they are the more vulnerable group during crises. Accessibility can prevent them from escaping danger or accessing food supplies, while underlying medical conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes, can be fatal if treatment is interrupted. This is compounded by the fact that older people are often among the poorest members of society, which can impact access to basic goods and services and put them at further risk.

Held since 2009, the day was inaugurated in memory of the former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and 21 members of his team who were killed in the Canal Hotel Bombing on 19 August 2003.

According to HelpAge, the humanitarian sector must strengthen its capacity to prepare, assess and respond to older people's needs given the aging global population amidst increasing global crises that are both human-induced and natural.

In South Sudan for example, a split from its northern neighbour in 2011 has failed to provide a respite for a population that has been ravaged by years of conflict with their North Sudan neighbours. The country is still embroiled in its own civil war as political tensions spill over into ethnic violence.

Over 1.1 million people have been left internally displaced by the conflict and some 430,000 have fled the country to refugee camps in neighbouring states.

HelpAge International through its partners and its own country teams is supporting older people affected both within the country and those displaced on the other side of the Ethiopian border in the country's Gambella region.

We have distributed essential items such as blankets, set up monitoring groups in camps to keep an eye on older people and ensure they can access services, age-proofed latrines with handrails, and set up an age-appropriate social centre,” said Erna Mentesnot Hintz, HelpAge Communications Officer in Ethiopia.

Erna adds that the centre was built for future distributions and trainings for older people's groups and home-based careers.

Most importantly though, Erna says that the centre was built to give older people a place to pass on their knowledge as well as teach younger refugees about their culture.

"HelpAge's project team has built great relationships with the local refugee community in Gambella. It is our team's immense commitment in such a harsh environment that is making an invaluable difference to the lives of thousands of South Sudanese refugees," adds Dr Prafulla Mishra, Regional Director, HelpAge International East, West and Central Africa.

Nyadeng, 80, is one of the older people who has received help from the HelpAge International. She lives in a camp in the Gambella region of Ethiopia, where she fled following an outbreak of violence in December 2013. She walked for four days to get there, but now feels safe from the conflict with her daughter and three granddaughters. HelpAge, working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, gave Nyadeng and her family 15kg of maize a month and bedding to sleep on.

Since May 2015, Tanzania has hosted over 70,000 Burundian refugees. This is in addition to over 61,000 Congolese refugees that have been living in the country for decades.

Today, about 12% of the world’s population is aged 60 or over. By 2050, there will be 2 billion older people – more than one-fifth of the global population will be over 60Two-thirds of older people live in developing countries, where disasters are more frequent and the humanitarian impact is greater. By 2050, four-fifths of the world’s older people are projected to live in developing countries.

About HelpAge International

HelpAge International helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. Our work is strengthened through our global network of like-minded organizations – the only one of its kind in the world.

For enquiries, please contact

Jamillah Mwanjisi, Head of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, EWCA Skype: Jamillah.mwanjisi, Email: Jamillah.mwanjisi@helpage.org Tel: + +254720043823 
Henry Neondo, Regional Communications Coordinator, EWCA Skype, henry.neondo15 Email: henry.neondo@helpage.org Tel:+254703618872

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