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Older Haitians still ignored by relief effort

None of the United Nations projects aimed at older people have been funded to date.

Despite being identified as the most vulnerable group in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, one year on, older people continue to be forgotten by international donors. This is according to a report by Age UK’s international partner organisation,  HelpAge International

Out of 321 projects included for funding in the United Nations Flash Appeals for Haiti, 5% of projects refer to older people’s needs. Only 0.6% of these projects included activities that are specifically targeted for older people and none of the 0.6% of projects were funded.

In other words, the UN’s Flash Appeals have not funded a single project that provides specifically targeted support for older people.

Gaps in UN funding for older people in emergencies

The report reveals a significant gap in the amount of funding allocated from UN coordinated appeals to older people in humanitarian emergencies, including the Haiti earthquake response.

The study looked at the UN’s Flash and Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) appeals as an indication of international commitment to older people’s needs. 'Only five out of 1,912 projects (0.2%) in response to 12 major emergencies in the last three years, including Haiti, included activities specifically targeted for older people and were funded' says Jo Wells, humanitarian policy adviser, and the report’s author.

'Our study shows there is a significant disparity between the needs of older people as a vulnerable group and the humanitarian assistance funded to meet that need. We are strongly recommending that the international humanitarian community takes immediate action to address this disparity.'

Specific needs of older people in disaster situations

Older people are particularly vulnerable and have specific needs in disasters and conflicts. They have higher rates of chronic diseases, particular nutrition needs and difficulty accessing food, reduced mobility, impaired sight and hearing and greater vulnerability to heat and cold. Old age also often brings poverty and isolation.

The idea that older people are always protected and cared for in their extended families is often not the case when crises cause confusion and social breakdown. At the same time, older people can also contribute immensely to their families and communities with their accumulated experience and knowledge, and often as the primary carers of their grandchildren.

There are many ways in which older people can be supported in reconstruction efforts. Bertin Meance, HelpAge Recovery Coordinator in Haiti says 'Older people have told us they have been left out of schemes such as cash-for-work projects, even though they are able-bodied. Support for livelihoods cannot be provided only for younger people. Being able to generate an income will enable older people to rebuild or rent a home, it will allow them to stay healthy, feed their families and dependents and help with other things such as paying school fees.'

Significant achievements despite considerable challenges

Despite the challenges, HelpAge International, funded by Age UK, achieved a significant amount in the first year of the emergency response.

  • 25,000 older people and their families received food, cash, shelter, mobility aids and solar panel kits with radio and lamp
  • Over 9,000 older people received medical consultation and medication in clinics run by HelpAge health partners in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel and Grand Goave.
  • A total of 209 carers were trained to provide home-based care to older people in 93 camps. Those carers (known as ‘friends’) pay regular visits to 4,000 of the most vulnerable older people. They participated in the campaign to raise awareness about cholera control and treatment after being trained by HelpAge International and its partners.
  • A 35 bed emergency medical facility was established in partnership with a privately-run, state-owned hospital. This facility has provided emergency inpatient care for 481 older people and outpatient care to 220 older people.

Age UK’s Charity Director Michelle Mitchell said: 'The scale of the challenges faced by the Haitian people over the last year cannot be overestimated. Many hundreds of thousands of people have lost everything and are having to rebuild their entire lives. This is a daunting task for the young and able bodied, but for those who are older and vulnerable it can prove a challenge too far. This is why it is imperative that humanitarian organisations such as the United Nations ensure that elderly people receive the support that they need.

'To have a situation where, one year on, the United Nations programmes for older people in Haiti are still not funded is appalling and disrespectful.'

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