Older people hit hardest by disasters - report

by Kieran Guilbert | KieranG77 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Sunday, 12 October 2014 22:01 GMT

In this 2005 file photo a man sits on the porch of his house in front of the Memorial Medical Center of New Orleans, United States. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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Older people suffer disproportionately from disasters, yet are often excluded from disaster management planning

By Kieran Guilbert

LONDON, Oct 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in the United States in 2005, three-quarters of the people it killed were over 60.

Five years later, when Japan was hit by an earthquake and tsunami, 56 percent of the people who died were 65 or older.

Older people suffer disproportionately from floods, cyclones, typhoons, heatwaves and other disasters, yet are often excluded from disaster management planning, according to a report released on Monday.

The report by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and HelpAge International comes at a time when life expectancy continues to rise and the ageing population continues to grow.

The report urged governments worldwide to include older people in all aspects of disaster management planning to reduce the death toll among those over 60.

"The older person is often invisible in our communities until they show up in the mortality figures after a disaster event," said head of UNISDR, Margareta Wahlström.

"The world needs to become more acutely aware of how to protect older persons as the climate changes and the ageing population is exposed to more extreme events," she said in a statement.

According to the United Nations, the number of people over 60 will double to two billion by 2050, accounting for more than 20 percent of the world's population.

"Older people bear the initial brunt of disasters often because they cannot flee," said HelpAge International Chief Executive Toby Porter in a statement.

"This is compounded by the lack of essential medications for older people, such as to treat diabetes, being available after disasters."

The report said a survey of 287 older people from 60 countries, showed that 58 percent of them did not know who was responsible for disaster planning in their communities and 68 percent of them did not take part in such activity.

UNISDR and HelpAge called on governments to sign up to a charter committing them to include older people in disaster risk reduction, including early warnings, disaster supplies and evacuation procedures.

(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert)

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