Aid agencies ignored special needs of elderly people after tsunami

BMJ 2005;331:422 (20 August), doi:10.1136/bmj.331.7514.422

Aid agencies ignored special needs of elderly people after tsunami
Ganapati Mudur New Delhi

Elderly people who survived the Asian tsunami on 26 December last year were unable to get health care, food aid, or cash support because relief packages were not specially designed for them, the non-profit agency HelpAge International has said.

Despite attempts in the past to highlight the vulnerability of elderly people during emergencies, the tsunami relief effort did not take into account the special needs of this group in its initial phase, the agency said in a report released last week.

The tsunami killed more than 300 000 people. It displaced about 92 000 people over the age of 60 in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Describing the plight of elderly survivors of the tsunami in the four countries, the report said these people became “almost invisible” when relief material was distributed. Many elderly people reported being pushed out of the way by younger people in the chaotic distribution of relief. The report has called on government agencies to include elderly people in needs assessment after disasters and to develop relief packages that are tailored to them.”
….
Many elderly tsunami survivors with chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer faced hardship in resuming treatment, as they had lost their medical papers or could not travel, the report said.
….
“It’s disappointing,” said Mathew Cherian, chief executive of HelpAge India. “Neither the government machinery nor the international aid fraternity recognised the vulnerability of the elderly. We had drawn attention to how older people in India suffered after the Orissa cyclone in 1999 and the Gujarat earthquake in 2001.”….

The Impact of the Indian Ocean Tsunami on Older People: Issues and Recommendations is available at www.helpage.org

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