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Taking care of the old in emergencies

Aug 25, 2008

Older people and Cyclone Nargis, a study by Helpage International reveals that around 700,000 people affected by the deadly cyclone in Myanmar are elderly. It recommends that to realise a successful recovery programme, it is critical to ensure that the particular challenges and needs of older people are addressed.

Older people and Cyclone Nargis: A study of the situation older people 100 days on

Publisher: Helpage International, 2008

Cyclone Nargis has had a devastating impact on millions of people in the Ayeyarwady Delta and southern Yangon Division region of Myanmar.

Among the affected are around 700,000 people over 55. Older people are often the missing element in relief and rehabilitation efforts.

In order to understand the situation of older people affected by Cyclone Nargis that struck Myanmar in May 2008, HelpAge International with the support of its partner YMCA and the Department of Social Welfare of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement carried out research in July 2008 in three affected townships: Kyiak Lat, Dedeye, and Pyapon.

This publication, based on the research, reveals that older people are highly dependent on the care and support of immediate family members. The extensive damage to the environment, shelter, and livelihoods and the death of family members has weakened the security system that previously existed for older people.

This study shows that they can become a vital link in supporting communities rebuild their lives and livelihoods. Their life-acquired wisdom and calmness certainly instills a distinctive sense of hope, of confidence in the future.

These are some of the key findings of the study:

Access to emergency relief: Sixty-five per cent of participants in the survey were the poorest of the poor. Fewer than 10% of those surveyed stated that there was specific attention to older people in the relief effort. Overall 82% had lost their household assets.

Food security: With food in short supply, older people’s coping strategies included reducing the size of meals (35%), skipping meals (32%), not eating at all on some days (11%), or going to relatives’ homes (15%).

Shelter: Seven per cent of older people live alone. Most houses in the villages were makeshift (various materials) or bamboo construction (75%) and thus susceptible to damage.

Healthcare:
Sixty-six per cent of older people carry a disability; of which 45% have sight problems and 35% have mobility problems.

Livelihoods: Sixty per cent of respondents have no productive assets, and only 25% have access to land. Fifty per cent of the older people engaged in farming
noted that they were unable to harvest their rice crop.

The main problems for older people in order of priority are; healthcare; food aid;
home care; nutrition; economic security and psychological support.

While relief efforts have helped to ease the situation, there is more to be done to support full recovery.

The study recommends the following to ensure older people are considered in emergency response programmes:

•  Address the felt needs of older people
•  Include older people explicitly in relief and recovery programmes
•  Include the needs of older people in future assessments
•  Engage HelpAge International to support you to mainstream older people’s needs

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