Humanitarian crises and old age: guidelines for best practice

In humanitarian crises, older people are among the most vulnerable, but their needs and contributions receive little recognition when compared with, for example, children. The United Nations High Commissionfor Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that ,on average, 10% of its caseload are refugees who are over 60 years old, and in some cases the proportion is as high as 30%. Most of these older refugees are women. In many emergencies, people do not cross borders and become refugees, but become displaced within their own country. When this happens, older people are  often left stranded in their homes or find themselves in unsuitable temporary shelters because they are unable to walk long distances or climb into trucks or buses.A key problem is older people’s ‘invisibility’. Humanitarian organizations often fail to identify or address their particular problems. This was the finding of recent research by HelpAge International, which works with older people in 70 countries and has considerable experience of humanitarian emergencies. The research has been used to draw up practical guidelines to assess older people’s needs, which can be used by those working with refugees, the displaced or thesurvivorsofnaturaldisasters.Theguidelinescallfor a change in attitude towards older people and offer practical ways of bringing changes in emergency response. They also stress that older people themselves can contribute to assistance anddecision-making