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- The ageing of the world's population is becoming an increasingly important policy issue for governments, professionals, academics, researchers and civil society as they face the challenge of assessing and managing the impacts of this trend. At the same time, governments need to strengthen emergency preparedness capabilities to respond effectively to the growing frequency and severity of extreme weather events, pandemic outbreaks, conflicts and other disasters and humanitarian crises. The changing global demographic has real implications for the number of seniors worldwide who may be exposed to disasters.
- While disasters have negative impacts on all affected populations, older people have consistently been disproportionately vulnerable to both the immediate and long-term consequences of disasters (NGO, 2001; Bolin & Klenow, 1983; Tanida, 1996; Fernandez et al., 2002). In fact, people aged 60 and over have the highest death rates of any age group during disasters (Center for Disease Control-American Red Cross, 1997). According to HelpAge International, "at present, very little is done to meet the particular needs of older adults or to recognize their unique capacities and contributions." Moreover, "humanitarian interventions often ignore older people's special needs, using systems that discriminate against them and, on occasion, undermine their capacity to support themselves" (HelpAge International [HAI] & Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR], 2003).
- Older people have unique sets of needs and circumstances that are different from those in the stages of early and adult life and that require special considerations. At the same time, seniors have many assets that not only contribute to their own independence but also play a major role in supporting families and maintaining nurturing and healthy communities. In disasters and emergencies, vulnerable and frail seniors are exposed to particularly heightened risks: impairments that might be minor under normal conditions can develop into major handicaps in times of crisis.
- Globally, there is a growing understanding that older people need to be visible in times of emergency: they need to be seen, heard, and understood (Wells, 2005). It is crucial that the factors which place older people at risk be understood, and that the important contributions they can make in mitigation as well as response and recovery efforts be considered and integrated into emergency management. It is also important to know which regions and countries have made progress integrating seniors and other vulnerable populations into emergency management, what challenges are faced in effectively doing this, and what approaches have been used to address these challenges.
- At the Second World Assembly on Ageing (April 2002) the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) was unanimously supported by all countries as a critical vehicle for ensuring that people everywhere are able to age with security and dignity, and continue to participate in their societies as citizens with full rights. More on the emerging global policy context for healthy/active ageing and follow-up to the MIPAA can be found in Appendix 1.
- In recognition of the particular vulnerability of older people in the face of emergencies and their need for humanitarian assistance and protection, the MIPAA includes two objectives that specifically address older people's needs and contributions in emergencies. The Plan calls on governments and humanitarian aid agencies to ensure that older persons are identified and afforded equal access to food, shelter, medical care, and other services during and after natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies. In addition, the Plan calls on governments and agencies to recognize the contribution that older people can make in the re-establishment and reconstruction of communities and the rebuilding of the social fabric following emergencies.
- Recognizing these factors and the need for a platform to increase international awareness and action on this issue, the Winnipeg International Workshop on Seniors and Emergency Preparedness (Winnipeg Workshop) was held in February 2007 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
This report reflects the collective views of participants at the Workshop. It presents the outcomes of their deliberations, inclusive of main directions and priorities for action, as well as lessons learned from past experience with emergencies and disasters. It also discusses the emerging policy context for healthy/active ageing and emergency management. The Report is a tribute to the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and its call for action on older persons' rights to protection and assistance in emergencies. It is a tribute to essential humanitarian messages that need to reverberate from sound advice and experience. It is offered as an incubator of key strategic measures that will benefit older people in emergencies and a society for all ages. (See Appendix 3 for a List of Participants at the 2007 Winnipeg International Workshop on Seniors and Emergency Preparedness.)
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