The elderly are not invisible

Rankin Kenya - changing climate and complacent politicians causes hunger

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the horrific stories of moms in Somalia who are arriving to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya with their babies dead in their arms. As a result, the humanitarian community has scaled up its response to children under five years of age, but have seemed to overlook another group of people who need just as much attention: the elderly.

Although the elderly constitute a smaller proportion of the drought-affected population in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, they are a highly vulnerable group with a specific set of needs appropriate to their age.

According to HelpAge International, there are 160,000 people in Somalia age 60 and over who require assistance, 234,000 in Ethiopia and 100,000 in Kenya. That isn’t counting the number of elderly Somalis who have already fled to refugee camps.

Many older people have been left by their families at home, left to fend for themselves without food, drink, family and community. Without those things, they cannot possibly survive.

So, what do the 60-and-above set need in times of humanitarian crises? HelpAge outlines a few:

  • Micronutrients, proteins and foods that are easily digestible
  • Easier access to general distributions of food, water and other services
  • Protection
  • Health care and treatment
  • Age-appropriate work and micro-finance opportunities

Unfortunately, attention for the elderly falls by the wayside in times like these. It’s hard for NGOs to find data on older age groups and agencies don’t often adapt their responses to the elderly’s needs in the areas of nutrition, health and protection.

To learn more about what HelpAge International is doing to assist the elderly in the Horn of Africa crisis, go to their website. Donors should not forget to fund humanitarian protection programs, which keep the elderly and other vulnerable populations in refugee camps safe from exploitation. Let’s make sure that the humanitarian community addresses all angles of the crisis.

The photo above is of a man named Tede Lokapelo, who is 85 years old. “I am living in the worst time of my life. We are poor because the season is always dry. Everything dies, every day, every day, every day. For me the world has changed for the worse,” he says. Photo credit: Rankin/Oxfam.