Today our sister organisation, HelpAge International, won the world’s largest humanitarian prize – the Hilton Humanitarian Prize – in recognition of “its work to alleviate human suffering”. This is a timely award on the day we present our vision for older people affected by crises and disasters in Age UK’s Agenda for Later Life report.
Age UK believes that people in later life must receive the protection and assistance they need and deserve following humanitarian emergencies. HelpAge International does a tremendous job ensuring that the interests of older people in developing countries are represented and their contributions recognised.
And this is imperative because the world is getting older; more and more civilians are dying in conflict; and natural disasters are becoming more frequent and deadly. In fact:
- The most rapid increase in the 60+ population is occurring in the developing world
- Since 1945, 90 per cent of casualties in conflict have been civilians
- Climate-releated disasters are increasing: the first four years of the 21st century saw an average of 326 disasters a year – a doubling in twenty years.
Older people are the invisible casualties of conflict and climate change. And they are often neglected in the response by governments and humanitarian agencies alike.
Part of the reason they are neglected is because of the myths that exist around older people in humanitarian emergencies. These myths include: the extended family and community will always protect people in later life; older people only have themselves to worry about; and a humanitarian agency will look after older people through general aid distributions.
In reality, migration and urbanisation mean that the extended family is no longer as common as it once was. And many people may not have the resources or ability to help others at a time when they are also suffering.
Furthermore, while some older people may not have families to care for them, many others are actually caring for grandchildren as their own children migrate in search of work or die through conflict and illness. So in many cases, people in later life not only have to look after themselves, but also the children in their care.
Finally, there are no United Nations agencies and very few international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) dedicated to older people. Besides, older people have particular nutritional, cultural and health needs that are often not met by general relief distributions. Sick, injured and frail people might find it difficult to queue or walk to relief distribution points, so they may not be able to access aid in the first place. Relief packages may contain food that is too heavy to carry, too difficult to chew or lacking the nutrients that older people need.
That is why the work of our sister organisation, HelpAge International, is so important. And it is only right and proper that the Conrad N Hilton Foundation should recognise their invaluable work. Congratulations HelpAge!
Age UK’s annual policy conference, Agenda for Later Life 2012, is taking place today. Follow the conference tweets on Twitter #AFLL