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Older People in Emergencies

Considerations for Action and Policy Development


Paperback / softback

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Older People in Emergencies by David Hutton
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Older people have often been overlooked in disasters and conflicts, and their concerns have rarely been addressed by emergency programs or planners. This analysis seeks to highlight factors that particularly affect older people in emergencies, especially health-related concerns, propose a strategy to raise awareness about older people in emergencies and recommend policies and practices to address these considerations. Until recently, older people s needs in disasters and conflicts were addressed only by broader adult health and humanitarian programs. This has changed as several recent emergencies highlighted this population s vulnerabilities. Of the 14 800 deaths in France during the 2003 heat wave, 70% were of people over 75 years. Of the estimated 1330 people who died in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, most were older persons. In Louisiana, 71% of those who died were older than 60 years; 47% of this group were over 77 years old. Worldwide, the UNHCR has estimated that older persons make up 8.5% of the overall refugee population, and in some cases comprise more than 30% of caseloads. In 2005, approximately 2.7 million people over the age of 60 were living as refugees or internally displaced persons.Globally, the proportion of older people is growing faster than any other age group. In 2000 one in ten, or about 600 million, people were 60 years or older. By 2025, this figure is expected to reach 1.2 billion people, and in 2050 around 1.9 billion. In developing countries, where 80% of older people live, the proportion of those over 60 years old in 2025 will increase from 7% to 12%. The increasing population of older people has drawn attention to the need to revise humanitarian policies to adequately serve this group s basic living and health requirements. From a health perspective, it is important to recognize the needs of older persons and to develop appropriate policies to promote emergency health care. Yet it is equally critical to assess and prepare for demographic and health trends that determine the shape of future emergencies. By 2050, the prevalence of disability in some developing countries is projected to rise by 400% as the population ages. At the same time, it is important to observe that the older population as a whole is neither helpless nor dependent. Most older people are capable of coping and adapting, despite increasing poor health and frailty as they age. Older people contribute immeasurably to their families and communities in various roles, and commonly sacrifice their well being to help their children and grandchildren. In Africa, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has seen older persons assume responsibility for raising many thousands of orphaned grandchildren and other children in need. Finally, older people contribute to their communities their decades of accumulated experience, knowledge and understanding. This insight makes them an essential resource and potential partner in developing emergency preparedness and response programmes."
Release date Australia
February 27th, 2008
Country of Publication
World Health Organization
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