Ageing and risk – how to get it right

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction

SENDAI, 11 March 2015 - UNISDR Chief, Margareta Wahlstrom, today welcomed the publication by HelpAge International of the first “Disaster Risk and Age Index” in the build-up to the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, 14-18 March. The Index ranks 190 countries on the disaster risk faced by older people.

"The Disaster Risk and Age Index captures the collision of two trends: ageing populations and the acceleration of risk in a world which is increasingly exposed to natural and technological hazards," said Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.

In her Foreword to the publication, Ms. Wahlström writes: “It demonstrates clearly how leaving out older people in approaches to development, including disaster risk management planning, can led to bad outcomes for them in disasters. Such planning must take into account the vulnerabilities as well as the capacities of the older generation.”

Overall, older people in Somalia, Central African Republic and Afghanistan face the highest risk. This is in part due to ongoing conflict, coupled with the lack of services provided for older men and women.

For example, in the Central African Republic there are only 0.5 doctors per 10,000 people. There is no pension coverage, low life expectancy at 60 and high numbers of older displaced people.

Older people in Malta and Finland are exposed to the lowest risk from disasters.

Today is the fourth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami which claimed 15,853 lives, injured 6,023 and left 3,282 missing. 56% of those who died in the tsunami were aged 65 and over, even though this age group comprised just 23% of the population.

Similarly, 75% of those who died in Hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005 were aged 60 or over, although only 16% of the local population were aged 60 or over.

66% of the world's over 60s live in less developed regions. By 2050, this is projected to rise to 79%. The world's population of older people is expected to rise to 2.02 billion by 2050.

"It is a sign of resilience that there will be this many older people in the world by 2050. But it is the unprecedented rate at which populations are ageing, alongside the increasing frequency of disasters, that presents policy makers with a challenge," said Toby Porter, HelpAge's Chief Executive.

He added: "We need to collect data disaggregated by sex, age and disability to demonstrate the impact of disasters on older people. This will help us to develop appropriate strategies in order to save lives."

A study HelpAge International carried out in 2013 on humanitarian financing found that only 1% of funded projects in 2012 targeted older people.

A global survey carried out for the 2014 International Day for Disaster Reduction found that when older people are considered in disaster risk reduction efforts, the responses are often inadequate and ill-informed, as older people are not engaged or consulted. Asked if they participate in disaster preparedness planning in their communities, 68% said they do not participate at all and only 9% said they participate frequently.

"Older people are often seen as passive recipients of aid rather than active participants in disaster risk reduction activities. They often get overlooked," said Godfred Paul, Senior Regional Programme Manager for HelpAge in East Asia Pacific.

Both UNISDR and HelpAge International are urging governments to commit to Charter 14, a 14-point declaration pledging to include older people in disaster risk reduction efforts. Find out more about Charter 14 and how your government can get involved.

Special consideration for the vulnerabilities and capacities of older persons in disaster risk management, is expected to be included in the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction which will be adopted at the World Conference in Sendai.

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