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

Older people affected by Typhoon Haiyan

Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) is one of the strongest storms to ever hit land.   Thousands of people have been killed; hundreds of thousands of homes have been destroyed; millions are at risk.  We estimate that approximately 1.3 million older people have been affected by the typhoon.

The typhoon crashed into the Philippines in the early hours of 8 November.  Pitch black, it was difficult enough to flee in darkness, let alone when contending with crashing waves and gushing winds.   Imagine if on top of that, you are a frail, older person.  How do you escape?   And then when you are in a place of safety, how do you get aid that suits your needs?

Older people are particularly at risk

Older women and men are particularly at risk in emergencies.  They are the ones least able to flee quickly; and the ones most likely to need support.  They often cannot run; they cannot carry possessions – such as blankets and clothes to keep themselves warm and dry.  They cannot queue for long periods for aid.COSE9  They cannot rebuild their homes alone.  They are often excluded from cash-for-work programmes, in the erroneous belief that they are no longer working.  For many agencies, older people remain invisible.

Not for us.  We seek out older people.  We ask them what they need.   And then we deliver ‘age-friendly’ emergency relief.  That sounds like jargon, but it’s really quite simple. Continue reading “Older people affected by Typhoon Haiyan”

Haiti Two Years on

This Blog was contributed by Brendan Gormley, Chief Executive, Disasters Emergency Committee

After an earthquake devastated large areas of Haiti on 12 January 2010, more than a million and half people were reduced to living in make-shift shelters in the streets and in any open space they could find. Two years later, over half a million people in the capital Port au Prince remain stuck in what should have been temporary camps.

Funds from the UK public raised through the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal have allowed our member agencies to provide assistance to 1.8m survivors over the last two years. They have helped in the capital but also in

Frederic Dupoux/HelpAge International

other towns and settlements that were affected, or where survivors from the city have sought refuge.

In the last year, the efforts of our members have necessarily been split between continuing to help provide basic, life-sustaining services and working with survivors to try to put their lives on a sustainable footing.

Treating and preventing the spread of cholera, which surged back again in October 2011 during the rainy season, is one of the reasons we have faced an extended emergency. The underlying cause though is the scale and complexity of the task of rebuilding a devastated capital city where most people lived in overcrowded slums before the earthquake. The government of Haiti, which must lead this process with support from the international community, was itself decimated by the earthquake and in the last year it has undergone a slow and difficult transition of power. Continue reading “Haiti Two Years on”

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. Continue reading “Left behind”

Why the East Africa disaster appeal is not ‘crying wolf’

More than 10 million people in East Africa are in desperate need of support to avert a humanitarian disaster. There have been suggestions that this is not a real crisis, that aid agencies are ‘crying wolf’ and that a famine is not taking place. A careful re-reading of agency appeals will show that we are not saying that this is – yet – a famine.  However, it could become one if we do not act now.

We know that people are suffering hunger, thirst and exhaustion. Crops are failing and cattle are dying. 1,700 people a day are fleeing Somalia for Ethiopia in search of the most basic of human needs for survival – food and water.

This is the worst drought for 60 years, it has rained little in this region for 2 years and the next harvests are expected to be extremely poor. Coupled with the ever-rising cost of food and fuel, basic staples are now out of many people’s reach. In Ethiopia alone, food price inflation stands at staggering 32.5%.

There has also been a significant reduction in herd size, in some areas 60-80% of cattle herds have been wiped out. People depend on livestock as a source of income and to feed their families.

Age UK is working with our sister charity HelpAge International in the Borana zone in Ethiopia to support an estimated 44,800 older people, who are often the most vulnerable and neglected in emergencies.

From our work here we know that there has been an increase in malnutrition not only amongst children under-5 and pregnant mothers, but also amongst older people. In some areas, water is being rationed but in others, there is nothing left at all. Amongst the already depleted herds of livestock, disease is starting to breakout and some households are fleeing to less affected areas, to try and escape the drought.

Brendan Gormley, Chief Executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee said: ‘If the public are as generous as we know they can be, if world government’s step up and if members and others rapidly increase their responses then a catastrophe can still be averted.’

In light of this, it’s excellent news that the UK Government is promising £38 million to the United Nation’s World Food Programme. But more aid is needed to ensure this crisis does not become a catastrophe.

We must act now to increase the distribution of clean water and food rations. In doing so we are learning from the past and not returning to the early 1980s, when the starvation and death of millions of people was highlighted on the news.

Age UK and HelpAge are the only organisations specifically targeting older people in emergency relief programmes. Help us to help those hit by the current drought in East Africa by supporting our International work.

See also

Support Age UK’s fundraising appeal for Ethiopia

East Africa is experiencing its most severe drought since the 1950s. In Ethiopia alone we estimate that 3.2 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian relief. With older people in some East African communities accounting for as much as 50 per cent of the population, people in later life are one of the worst affected groups. From our experience we know that the older people are often the most vulnerable and neglected in emergency situations.

Age UK is working with our sister organisation Help Age International to provide much needed emergency relief for an estimated 44,800 people in the Borana zone in Ethiopia, supporting older people by distributing food, water and healthcare. With additional funds 20,000 households or 140,000 people could be reached. We are also helping livestock which is vital for people’s livelihoods by providing water, animal feed and veterinary care. People have been unable to plant crops, feed themselves or let animals graze as the drought has left a barren landscape. Farmers have been unable to sell livestock in order to buy food in the local markets as they have done in previous years, as livestock succumbs to disease and starvation. In fact, in just the Borana zone alone 250,000 livestock have died due to the drought.

We know that people in later life have been severely affected by the mass migration of younger people to cities, leaving older people living in drought affected areas with a lack of access to water, food or opportunities to generate income with which to support themselves. Often older people will be left caring for grandchildren, not only are they looking after children but they will also have to look after themselves.

Alison Rusinow, HelpAge Ethiopia Director said recently that: ‘Grandparents in Ethiopia are the primary carers for 2.5 million children, doing their best to ensure the children are cared for and go to school. But the food price hikes mean these grandparents now frequently have to choose between feeding themselves or their grandchildren and invariably they prioritise the children.’

The rise in global food and fuel prices on the world’s markets has further compounded the problem. The price of grain in local markets is now beyond the means of most ordinary people. A prolonged drought and rising fuel costs will further drive up the cost of basic food staples. The sheer scale of the drought cannot be underestimated as 11 million people across the most arid parts of East Africa are affected. In Ethiopia people are walking for days or even weeks to find water, pasture and food but significant numbers of people are unable to find what they need to survive.

Age UK and HelpAge are the only organisations specifically targeting older people in emergency relief programmes. Help us to help those hit by the current drought in East Africa by supporting our International work.

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