On 13 October this year, the International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) was observed worldwide. The concept of IDDR started back in 1989 approval by the United Nations General Assembly. The UN General Assembly sees the IDDR as a way to promote a global culture of disaster risk reduction (DRR), prevention, mitigation and preparedness. Globally, this is a day to celebrate how people and communities are reducing their risk against disasters and raising awareness on the importance of DRR.
This year the focus of IDDR was on the older people, including their needs and what they contribute to better planning and understanding of disaster risk in their communities. Moreover, IDDR 2014 intended to switch on and amplify this critical issue now and for the post-2015 framework for DRR as many of the milestones will be over in 2015 including Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA).
World's aged population: Call for developing nations
Alongside the world population, the number of older people is increasing rapidly. The world population has quadrupled to 7 billion in just over 100 years while people aged over 60 constitute around 11 per cent of it. By 2050, this proportion will be doubled to 22 per cent - that is 2 billion. More importantly, the aged population is increasing most rapidly in developing countries, which is currently nearing 60 per cent of the world's older persons, projecting to rise to 80 per cent by 2050.
Representing one-tenth of the world's population, older people have unique contributions to help reduce disaster risks and build resilient communities. But not just while receiving aid in humanitarian crisis, they get less attention during long term recovery and preparedness. More often their unique contribution to helping families and communities prepare for and respond to disasters is also overlooked although 40-50 per cent children are taken care of by their grandparents. In 2010, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated in the UN General Assembly that "Existing human rights mechanisms have lacked a systematic and comprehensive approach to the specific circumstances of older men and women."
DRR efforts and older people
In last decade, Bangladesh as one of the disaster hotspots in the world, has significantly improved the disaster management capacity both in national and local level. Efforts took place in addressing disaster risks and uplifting living status of the marginalised groups by approving DM Act, developing Standing Order on Disasters (SoD), identifying the roles and responsibilities of Disaster Management Committees (DMCs) at all level, extended social safety net coverage, initiated Climate Change Trust Fund, 3770 cyclone shelters constructed. However surprisingly, needs of the socially excluded and marginalised groups, e.g. aged citizens, persons with disabilities (PWD) and women issues are yet to be addressed in DRR policy instruments, particularly in implementation phase although women alone constitute 49.40 per cent population of the country. 15 per cent of the population is living with the different forms of disability (WHO). DRR policy instruments limited the definition of 'inclusion' by addressing some of physical disabilities and other trendy issues (like Autism) while the importance of addressing the needs of marginalised people including aged citizens, their unique contribution, including them in different disaster management committees, counting their experiences in decision making process has clearly been ignored.
Legal instruments for older people's rights
In the Constitution of Bangladesh, there are numerous provisions that obligate the government to protect the rights and dignity of all citizens of the country equally and without any bias whatsoever. It also allows room for additional and/or supplementary provisions that will ensure that citizens who do not have access to all the public amenities are able to obtain such services. Meeting the Constitution, there is no dedicated protection regime being developed for older people's rights while the rights of women, children, and people with disabilities are all protected through formulating respective acts and policies. No special international conventions or standards exist for older people either. Older people's rights are also neglected in the current human rights framework. For example, of 21,353 recommendations the Human Rights Council made during the entire first round of its peer to peer human rights review process of all UN member states, only 31 recommendations referred to 'elderly' people or people of 'old age' (UPR-info, 2012).
Vulnerability factors for the older people
It is obvious that the needs of older people are very different from others while humanitarian programmes are often designed to meeting specific needs by ignoring appropriate data while older people are minimally consulted in the planning and execution of humanitarian operations. Due to lack of systematic registration of beneficiaries for food and non-food distribution, older people get easily excluded.
Older age brings reduced mobility, impaired senses and greater vulnerability to heat and cold reducing their coping capacity. During emergency, food distribution and other relief packages rarely include the particular needs of older people and their specific dietary requirements while the focus for first aid and other health services do not respond to their ongoing needs.
A research reveals 80 per cent of older people in developing countries have no regular income and less than 5 per cent receive pension privilege. Older people are always excluded from 'cash for work' or 'food for work' type recovery programmes due to their physical inability while evidently many older people face abuse and violence at their own homes, in institutional and long term care facilities. Many are also denied the right to make decisions about their personal finances, property and medical care. On the other hand, older people hold rights but are often treated with charity. Older people find it physically difficult to access water-points, latrine and other sanitation facilities mostly in rural and slum areas while very rare psychological support is availed to them.
What should be addressed?
Considering the contextual needs, measures should be taken immediately. Appropriate identification of older people can be a key task since there is no appropriate database for them in Bangladesh. Without developing a proper database, no programme will work in a comprehensive approach. During the post disaster phase, proper assessment, appropriate data collection, registration and monitoring of the data disaggregated by age and sex is inevitable. In developed world, older people's forum plays a very active role in ensuring their rights. Initiatives can be taken to form similar committees at ward level at rural areas and sector/block/housing society level at urban areas which would ensure the old people's rights and make their voices heard. A very comprehensive 'return package' should be considered in relief distribution period while a separate distribution line for older people and persons with disabilities should be made. Inclusive features such as ramps, handrails, grab bars and lights should be considered in household infrastructure, in line with international guidelines on accessibility. They can be included in post disaster psychosocial activities.
During preparedness phase, a separate programme can be approached to train community workers to identify older people while integrated home-based care-giving training can be introduced. Of older people, women are the most vulnerable who should be consulted in gender violence prevention and response programmes while programmes for child protection and safety can be communicated to older care-givers. In different committees including water distribution, quality monitoring, and disaster management, older people's representation should be ensured.
Every year the IDDR campaign sets a global strap line, and this year it is "Resilience is for Life." UNISDR explains building resilience starts from the young age and continues as we grow older. Older persons have years of experiences and wisdom which should be taken into account by various stakeholders. IDDR2014 encourages every citizen and government to take part in building more disaster resilient communities and nations incorporating aged citizens. Now this is on us whether we will take this opportunity or leave them into vulnerabilities.r
Mohammed Norul Alam Raju, National Urban Coordinator at World Vision Bangladesh. Mohammad Simon Rahman, Programme Coordinator at Islamic Relief, Bangladesh