Age-Friendly Cities sign the Dublin Declaration

Over 40 cities from across the world signed the Dublin Declaration this week showing their commitment to creating age-friendly cities.

Ghassan Tabet

Alongside Dublin and 9 counties in Ireland a diverse range of cities including Mexico City, Manchester and New York have signed up.

In doing so they have declared they will work to meet actions based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Age-Friendly Cities Guide:

  • awareness of older people, their rights, their needs, their potentials.
  • developing citizen centred processes.
  • develop urban and other public places that are inclusive.
  • include housing for older people that is of the highest quality.
  • public transport systems available to older people.
  • promote the participation of older people in social and cultural life.
  • promote and support the development of employment and volunteering opportunities.
  • ensure support and health services are available to older people.

The signing ceremony was the culmination of the first WHO international conference on age-friendly cities, which aims to be the first step in building a global network of cities. The over-arching theme of the conference has been about building momentum, making sure that cities can build on the work of the pilot projects, which led to the age-friendly cities checklist. Continue reading “Age-Friendly Cities sign the Dublin Declaration”

The International Day of Older People: what should we be celebrating?

On 1 October, people around the world will be marking the International Day of Older People. The United Nations created this annual event in 1991 to celebrate the contributions and achievements of people in later life.  So what should we be celebrating? 

Well, I think the most obvious achievement is that people in some of the poorest countries in the world are actually reaching old age. Low life expectancy figures mask the fact that there are millions of older people in many of the poorest countries in the world. People aged 60 and over represent almost 11 per cent of the total world population; and by 2050, the number is predicted to rise to 19 per cent.  The most rapid increase in the 60+ population is occurring in the developing world. This will mean there will be more older people in the world than children for the first time in history.

 This is a huge cause for celebration because it demonstrates that improvements in healthcare, hygiene, water quality, sanitation and education are actually paying off and helping us to live longer. And living longer is an achievement.

 But growing old is not always easy. Older people are among the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the world: they are often amongst the poorest of the poor.  100 million of them live on less than one dollar (60 pence) a day.  Astonishingly, only 5% of people in later life have access to a pension.  Many have to continue working until the day they die.  And many have to work in poorly paid, unsafe and irregular work.

 So what should we celebrate?

We should celebrate when a country introduces a pension. We know that in households containing a grandmother in receipt of a pension, the benefit is felt across the family.  InBrazil, children in such households are up to 3 cm taller, due to the improved diet they receive.

 However, just because a pension exists, it doesn’t mean that an older person can get one. Knowing about it is half the challenge and proving that they are entitled is the other half. Lack of official documents and ID cards is a problem many older people face. AgeUKand HelpAge International campaign for pensions in developing countries, raise awareness about them and help older people to access them.

 We should also celebrate the activism and engagement of older people themselves. Over 2,400 Older People’s Associations (OPAs) have been formed across the world. These OPAs are made up of active, older people who are demanding that their voice be heard.  They are not passive recipients of aid.  They are active agents of change. 

 InTete,Mozambique, Juliano is the President of his local OPA and Podiria is in charge of the Livestock Committee.  Podiria assesses which of the older people in the community are most in need.  That person is given a couple of goats.  When the goats produce a kid, they pass it on to the OPA, so it can be given to another older person.  The OPA also runs a community welfare fund, giving loans or donations to the most vulnerable people, whatever their age.  Older people are helping themselves and others. 

 The one unifying experience most of us will hopefully share is ageing. We’re getting really good at it and we should expect a lot more of it in the years to come.

 So we have a choice: we can put our heads in the sand and pretend this isn’t happening or embrace the challenges and opportunities that await us.

 If there is only one thing we are going to celebrate on 1 October, let us celebrate the fact that many millions of people in developing countries have reached later life.

On the Edge: Why older people are left out in humanitarian emergencies

This blog was contributed by Judith Escribano, Age UK’s international communications manager:  

I’ve been caught up in earthquakes in El Salvador and Peru, witnessed the aftermath of hurricanes in Haiti and Honduras and been held up by guerrillas in Guatemala and paramilitaries in Colombia.  I’ve seen communities recovering from conflict in Latin America, Asia and Africa. But I’d never seen an older person playing an active role in the recovery of their community until I came to Age UK.

Why is that?  I’ve been working in development for nearly 20 years. And I started my career working as a Care Assistant for the elderly in a residential home. Yet somehow, I had never made the connection. I had never realised that older people might have different needs in an emergency and that general aid distributions might not be appropriate.

After the tsunami, 75-year old Sri Lankan Perumal told us that he wasn’t going to bother queuing for aid: ‘I’ve been pushed out on earlier occasions and have fallen on the ground. I know I will get nothing this time round too. The fastest get the food, the strongest wins. Older people and the injured don’t get anything.’ Continue reading “On the Edge: Why older people are left out in humanitarian emergencies”

The End of the Era of Denial?

This blog post was contributed by Ken Bluestone, Age UK’s international political and policy adviser:

The annual World Demographic and Ageing Forum just took place in St Gallen Switzerland. As the name would suggest, it is a meeting place in which challenges, future trends and opportunities regarding demographic ageing are discussed.

The future of healthcare in the developed and developing world, human rights of older people and demography meets financial markets were all on the agenda. Despite the focus and attention given to these issues in St Gallen, there is little evidence that demographic ageing is being taken seriously by international policy leaders outside the room.

Photo: Adam Cohn

During the conference, demographic ageing was described as the ‘second inconvenient truth of the century’. According to the UN’s figures, the global number of people over the age of 60 is due to exceed the number of children under the age of 15 for the first time ever by the year 2045. The pace of this change will be felt most acutely in developing countries making demographic ageing an inescapable part of the international development landscape.

Yet ageing remains a glaring blind-spot in the optics of international policy-making. For example, ageing is almost entirely absent from the Millennium Development Goals; and the World Health Organisation finds it acceptable to prepare for the upcoming UN High-level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases (19-20 September) by referring only to the 9 million global NCD-related deaths of people under the age of 60 whilst ignoring the population aged 60 and over where 75% of NCD deaths occur (27 million).

One of the clear messages coming from the discussions at the WDA Forum in St Gallen is that we live in extraordinary times. We are benefitting from unprecedented advances in all forms of technology and these have changed our lives. It is enabling us to live longer and also, hopefully, to live longer well.

Whether one views demographic ageing as a cause for celebration or a harbinger of more woe to come, we are not sitting on the edge of a precipice. There are no surprises ahead where demographic ageing is concerned, yet still the international community refuses to prepare.

Ilona Kickbush, Chair of the WDA Forum, summed up the conference by saying the denial of ageing can be overcome providing we have leadership from all sectors of society. The question is: will this challenge be taken up by others?

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.

See also: