Left behind

Photo: HelpAge International via Flickr

Scanning the press coverage of the current Disasters Emergencies Committee (DEC) appeal for East Africa uncovers a predictable range of approaches.

Most articles take the ‘Isn’t it awful? We must do something’ line. They show heart-wrenching pictures of emaciated children and dying cattle.

Others take a more analytical approach and seek to apportion blame on someone or something. Corrupt dictators, too many children, climate change, over-population, lack of aid, too much aid, unfair trade, conflict – the list goes on. I have a good deal of sympathy with some (though not all) of these arguments.

There is also plenty of coverage of how the situation is affecting children. I’ve even seen a plea for emergency aid for the animals affected. But I have yet to read any news article which mentions older people.

So why don’t older people don’t get a mention?

Firstly, I think there is an assumption by many (including some in the development community) that there aren’t any older people in developing countries. And if there are, they are lucky to have made it so far, they are living on borrowed time so we don’t need to bother about them. Children are the future. Older people are just past it.

So, before we go any further, some facts.

It’s estimated that there are currently around 54 million older people living in Africa. And the proportion of older people is growing rapidly.

Of course, it is true that rapid population growth in recent years has led to predominantly young populations in most African countries. But people are also living longer, and many more are reaching older age.

One in 10 of the poorest people in the world are now over 60. By the year 2050 there will be more over-60s in developing countries than under-14s.

Older people in developing countries are not passive recipients or victims. Most make a big contribution to their own communities. In the many countries where there is no old age pension from the state, most people have to go on working for as long as they can. Many older people are carers for young children, enabling parents to earn money by working away from the family home, or because children have been orphaned.

If you scan the news images from the refugee camps in East Africa, it’s true that you won’t often see an older face. But there’s a good reason for that. With age, comes declining mobility, so when a family decides to leave their home village to seek help elsewhere, many of the older people are left behind. In many of the famine-ravaged communities in Ethiopia where our partner HelpAge International is working, about half of the population are over 60. Those who can get up and go have got up and gone. The older people are left behind. This blog from Gacheru Maina, working with HelpAge International in East Africa, illustrates just this point.

And for those who make it to camps where they might get help? Tragically over the years we have heard many stories from older people who have got to a camp, only to find themselves left behind again. After the 2010 floods in Pakistan, 70-year-old Sultana said, ‘As I was waiting in the queue for my turn to receive food, somebody punched me in the face and knocked me unconscious: all this just to get ahead of me.’

So, as Age UK, an organisation dedicated to improving later life in the UK and around the world, what can we do about this? Frankly we have a job on our hands.

Sometimes it seems that as a nation we are obsessed with young people and youthfulness – and not much interested in what happens beyond our borders either. At Age UK we need to get out there and make the case for older people living in poverty around the world. We’re doing this already, but we obviously have to try harder, and we’re thinking about how to approach this.

In the meantime, please donate to the Age UK’s East Africa appeal and please start asking yourself as you read news reports from East Africa: where are the older people in this story? And if they are not there, why not?

4 responses to “Left behind

  1. I completely agree that us older people are neglected as far as the media are concerned. However, I do not support aid to Africa for any reason. There are many African countries that could afford to give to support the causes you mention but do not, choosing to spend any money (left over after embezzlement) on arms, largely to ensure their own despotic regimes remain in power and safe from their own populations

  2. I am sorry you do not feel able to support aid to Africa. You are right that there is corruption in Africa, as there is in the UK and every other nation in the world – but the people who suffer most from this are ordinary men and women. Funds given to Age UK for our international work are channelled through our sister organisation HelpAge International to groups working directly with communities on the ground. No money goes to governments, and we carry out thorough assessment, monitoring and evaluation of our programmes to ensure that funds are spent for the purposes intended.

    People in East Africa, and particularly older people, are in desperate need now, and without help the situation could become much worse. Through HelpAge International we are providing support to older people in the Borana area of Ethiopia, including help to feed their animals (most people rely on livestock and this will ensure that they have an income once the drought is over) and small cash grants direct to people which enables them to buy food and water now.

  3. I certainly do support & contribute aid to older people in the UK where there is a vast amount still to be done to raise the quality of care and dignity afforded to older people in care. However, whilst I applaud the fact that through HelpAge International you donate directly to where it is needed, I do not believe that we should let African governments off the hook over this matter; we are simply condoning their corrupt behaviour. If African nations can afford vast sums spent on arms (and lost through corruption) they can afford to look after their own aging populations. Aid from African countries is precisely zero and just look at the lifestyle of their rulers and armed forces leaders. We should concentrate more on shaming them into positive action to help their populations.

  4. EDWARD J KEEGAN

    AGE CONCERN, AGE UK, YOU CHANGE NOTHING.
    TELL ME HOW CAN PEOPLE WHO ARE LOOKED DOWN ON THE ELDERLY ARE EVER GOING TO ADDRESS THE CRUEL AND IGNORANT TREATMENT OF OLD PEOPLE.

    I WOULD LIKE TO PRESENT A PAPER ON BEHALF OF THE MANY ELDERLY PEOPLE AT YOUR NEXT CONFERENCE, OR DO YOU ONLY INVITE THOSE SPEAKERS WHO DO NOT CHALLENGE THE PEOPLE IN POWER. I KNOW WHO FEEL BETRAYED BY THE SYCOPHANTIC BODIES WHO SAY THEY REPRESENTS US.YET YOU TALK ABOUT THIS AND THAT AND THE OTHER AND YOU ACHIEVE \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ZERO.
    WELL i AM AN OLD DYNAMIC PERSON WHO WILL AIR MY VIEWS NATIONALLY AND I WILL MOTIVATE AND SPARK THOSE WHO SIT WAITING FOR SOME ONE TO LEAD THEIR THIKING.
    I SEEK NO PUBLICITY FOR MY SELF BUT WILL CHALLENGE
    EVERY PROPOSAL AND PROPOSITION PUT FORWARD BY GROUPS WHO ARE TALKING TO PEOPLE WHO ARE STRUGGLING WITH THEIR PENSIONS (SEVERELY DEVALUED BY LEGISLATION AND THE BANKS) WHO NEED FIGHTERS NOT TALKERS, WHO ARE REPRESENTED BY PEOPLE WHO ARE PAID TO PRESENT A WEAK FRONT AND KEEP OUR POLITICAL MASTERS HAPPY.

    EXAMPLE. AN OVER SEVENTY FIVE APPLIES TO RENEW HIS PASSPORT AND IS TOLD NO REDUCTION UNLESS YOU WERE BORN BEFORE 1929. THIS WOULD MEAN HE WOULD HAVE TO BE 82 HOW MANY PEOPLE AT 82 TRAVEL REGULARLY,. BEFORE YOU ANSWER CHECK PER HEAD OF POPULATION. IF YOU CAN TRAVEL ( BEARING IN MIND YOUR PREVIOUS COMMITMENT TO THE STATE OR SOCIETY
    NOBODY WILL INSURE YOU UNLESS YOU PAY EXORBITANT RATES.

    I HAVE WATCH YOU OVER THE YEARS AND SEEN YOUR ORGANISATION PAY LIP SERVICE TO WHAT EVER POLITICAL PARTY WHO WAS IN PLACE AND YOU HAVE ACHIEVED NOTHING OF REAL SIGNIFICANCE FOR THE ELDERLY CITIZENS OF THIS COUNTRY. AND YET YOU ARE PAID. THE DECISION MAKERS IN AGE UK ARE PAID AND HAVE AFORM OF SECURITY. I WANT TO SPEAK FOR US PENSION ONLY PEOPLE WHO HAVE TO WORK TO MAKE ENDS MEET.

    WELL DO YOU REALLY CARE AND ACCEPT MY CHALLENGE AND IN VITE ME TO SPEAK AT YOUR CONFERENCES COUNTYWISE AND NATIONALLY OR YOU GOING TO PUT ME OFF WITH SOME POLITICAL SPEAK AS YOU HAVE WITH OTHERS IN THE PAST.

    NONE OF THE ABOVE IS POLITICAL ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, i AM JUST OLD SMART AND FEDUP OF THE LIES AND BETRAYALS THE ELDERLY HAVE HAD TO PUT UP WITH. AND I WANT TO FIGHT BACK .

    DON’T BE FRIGHTENED OF MY ANGER AND FRUSTRATION BUT EMBRACE IT FOR IT SOON WILL BE THE DRIVING FORCE COMING UP TO ELECTIONS AND NO PARTY WANTS THE ELDERLY VOTE AGAINST THEM , AND NOW IS THE TIME TO WARN THE PARTY’S WHAT THEY CAN LOOK FORWARD TOO.

    YOU ARE A CARING ORGANISATION NOT AN ORGAISATION BUILT TO FIGHT FOR MY/OUR RIGHTS. WE THE ELDERLY DO NOT WANT CHARITY BUT OUR RIGHT FOR THE PEOPLE WHO FOUGHT, WORKED AND BUILT THE SOCIETY WE HAVE TODAY.

    GOVERNMENTS IGNORE US, FROM TODAY THEY DO SO AT THEIR POLITICAL PERIL

    EDDIE KEEGAN
    SENIOR CITIZEN

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