Why does it take so long for aid to get through to the Philippines? And why is aid different for older people?

This blog was contributed by Dianne Jeffrey, Chairman of Age UK and member of the Age International Board

As well as being the Chair of Age UK, I am also on the Board of its subsidiary charity, Age International. I believe passionately that people in later life all over the world deserve our support. That is why I am proud that Age International is helping older people in more than 40 developing countries around the world, including the Philippines after the devastating Typhoon Haiyan.

When disasters strike, people ask me three main questions:

 1.Will aid be delivered?

Yes it will. I have had the privilege of seeing our work in action. We work through local partners who know the situation on the ground better than anyone else. We have strict monitoring and evaluation procedures in place, so we know money will be used correctly. In the Philippines, we are working through our

Help Age International beneficiary Francesca Genemilo , 78, at a HAI food distribution camp. She has diabetes but no access to medicine , her husband who is also ill is taking shelter at the local clinic even though it has no staff."Because he is old the medical services think it is not an emergency"
Help Age International beneficiary Francesca Genemilo , 78, at a HAI food distribution camp. She has diabetes but no access to medicine , her husband who is also ill is taking shelter at the local clinic even though it has no staff.”Because he is old the medical services think it is not an emergency”

long-term partners, HelpAge and the Coalition of Services for the Elderly (COSE) with whom we have worked for 30 and 26 years respectively.

2.Why does it take so long to deliver aid?

Vast swathes of the country have been destroyed; aid workers and government officials themselves affected; electricity pylons knocked down; ports destroyed; airports closed; runways and roads covered in debris. This is not an easy environment in which to be operating. Anacleta, 77, told us “I’ve experienced many typhoons in my life, but this is the worst one ever.”

The Philippines is made up of 7,000 islands, so it’s difficult enough to reach communities at the best of times. We’ve all heard the distressing story of Tacloban nearly being wiped off the map. The airport in Tacloban is a small provincial airport; when you get two commercial flights arriving simultaneously, the airport’s capacity is strained; three and it’s at breaking point.

Ports have also been damaged and boats destroyed. Roads are-littered with corpses, trees, debris – these need to be cleared before we can even start delivering aid in bulk. I am delighted to say that our local partners have overcome this tricky problem by using motorbikes to reach remote, hard-to-reach areas.

3.Why do we need a separate aid agency for older people; won’t their needs be met by the other agencies?

Older people have special needs which are not always met by other agencies or government distributions.

  • Some agencies don’t even count older people – they go to a community; ask the middle generation how many children they have; but fail to ask whether they are caring for older people. We find and count older people; we ask them what they need
  • Some older people cannot leave their homes, even if they want to – they may be physically unable or reluctant to leave their homes in which they have lived for decades. We go right into the heart of remote communities looking for older people who have been left behind
  • People in later life tell have told us they’re ashamed to seek help. Elisa, 84, says “We haven’t been to the distribution centre to get any food aid. We’d feel ashamed.” We help take away some of the shame by taking aid to older people right where they are
  • Some people in later life are split up from their families and many reunification programmes only focus on reuniting children with their parents. We ensure our reunification programmes focus on older people
  • Some food distributed is not appropriated for older people – it may contain foodstuffs that are difficult to chew or swallow. It may be in packaging too heavy to carry or too difficult to open with weaker or arthritic fingers. We ensure we deliver ‘age-friendly’ food that can be easily consumed, carried and opened
  • Older people are often more susceptible to the cold (due to circulation problems), so we ensure that older people receive clothing and blankets to keep them warm
  • Shelter and latrines may not be appropriate for older people – they may not have handrails or ramps. We ensure that rebuilt homes take into account the needs of older people
  • Older people frequently suffer chronic illnesses, which may be left untreated by other agencies, focusing solely on first aid. We provide primary healthcare; we treat chronic illnesses; and we distribute lost or destroyed glasses, hearing aids and mobility aids
  • Livelihoods programmes tend to target those thought to be ‘of working age’, discriminating against older people who also need to work. We target older people to give them the means to help themselves.

Years if not decades to recover

The operation to help rebuild the Philippines will take a long time – the devastation has been so widespread; the trauma so deep. We will stand by the people of the Philippines now and in the future.

I am thrilled with the response of members of the UK public. You have been incredibly generous and we are deeply grateful for your support. We are pleased to say that we have received assistance from the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) and World Jewish Relief – the primary humanitarian aid agency of the UK Jewish community.

With this aid, we have:
■provided food and non-food items (such as clothing, towels, mosquito nets, blankets, torches) to 7,500 older people
■established help desks specifically for older people at 16 evacuation centres
■provided basic first aid and treatment for chronic illnesses
■organised psycho-social support to extremely vulnerable and traumatised older people.

In the medium term, we will provide shelter materials and deliver cash.

I firmly believe that it is our duty to help older people in the world, wherever they are. Thank you so much for your generous donations so far. Please consider donating more http://www.ageinternational.org.uk/typhoon and please help us to spread the word about older people in emergencies http://www.twitter.com/age_int and http://www.facebook.com/ageinternational

Thank you

7 thoughts on “Why does it take so long for aid to get through to the Philippines? And why is aid different for older people?”

    1. Hello Roger
      We believe it is not right to send the wrong type of aid. That is why we are working through local partners who are on the ground and who know the situation best. They have asked older people in the communities in which we work what they need and we are in the process of delivering it. We’re delighted to say we have now assisted over 20,000 people in later life.
      Do you know of cases in which the wrong type of aid has been delivered?
      Best wishes
      Jude, Age International

      1. Hi it was on the radio, Radio Cymru in Wales. That Grain was being sent out and it couldn’t be used to make a meal because it was indigestible and the wrong type. Also tents were being sent out and there was nowhere for them to pitch them. The aid was being stolen and sold on the Black Market as well as convoys being attacked and Aid Shipments being stolen by Armed Soldiers. Your guess as to which side. They were talking to someone who had first hand knowledge of all this.

      2. Hello again Roger. I cannot comment on aid being delivered by other agencies. What I can tell you is that our food packages contain foodstuffs that can be consumed by people who may not have many or any teeth; that can easily be swallowed and digested; and that contains micronutrients needed by older people. We are buying food and non food items from local markets, so we do not disrupt the local economy. And we are receiving daily reports from people with first-hand knowledge of all of this.
        I am sorry that you have a negative opinion of the aid being delivered to survivors of the typhoon in the Philippines. We are confident that the aid we are delivering is appropriate, timely and will help to save lives.

  1. May I ask who are the local partners you are working with. Can you be 100% sure you are being given the correct information. You say you are in the process of delivering aid after how many weeks. So how have you assisted 20,000 people in later life. With respect younger people out there are of no concern to you are they.

    1. We are working with HelpAge and COSE, partners with whom we have worked for over 30 and 26 years respectively. We receive daily reports from them, delivered by people who are right there on the ground seeing what is happening. We have delivered food and non-food items (including clothing, towels, buckets and torces) to 20,000 people, in response to questions asking them what they need. Our remit is to assist older people in developing countries. We are the only UK charity to do so. On the other hand, there are more than 400 charities focusing on children and young people – they are best placed to meet their needs.

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