ActionAid: Valuing older people in disaster response

Source(s): ActionAid International

Written by: Airlie Taylor, consortium manager, Myanmar Consortium for Community Resilience

Monday 13th October is International Day for Disaster Reduction, a day aimed at raising awareness of disasters and the steps people can take to protect themselves, their property and their livelihoods. This year, the day focuses on the unique contribution that older people can make to building a culture of safety and resilience within their communities.

Disasters aren’t inevitable

The message is that disasters are not inevitable, but can be mitigated and their impacts reduced by taking simple measures in advance.

This might mean spreading news of an impending cyclone via loudspeaker to all members of the village, or knowing to take vital supplies of food and water to a shelter when floods strike. It’s a message that is all the more relevant in Myanmar, one of the most disaster-prone countries in South East Asia.
Including the most vulnerable

In 2008, Cyclone Nargis swept across large parts of the country. 100,000 people were killed and 58,000 more registered as missing. The disaster was a wake-up call. Since then, Myanmar has invested heavily in helping communities prepare for disasters, and respond more quickly and effectively when they strike.

But often, these efforts exclude the very people that they are trying to help. The most vulnerable groups – women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly, amongst others – can be left behind.

Ensuring that all members of the community can express their concerns, contribute their ideas and participate in making their communities safer before and during disasters is a key aim of the Myanmar Consortium for Community Resilience (MCCR), a group of six agencies (ActionAid, ACF, HelpAge International, Oxfam, Plan and UN-Habitat) working together with funding from the European Union.

That’s why the MCCR has signed up to a Charter developed by UNISDR and HelpAge International to ensure that older people are included in DRR efforts.

Why older people matter

Recently, visiting one of the project villages in the Ayeywaddy Delta – an area prone to cyclones and floods - I met 64 year old Daw Myint and her friend Daw Tin Htun, 59.

The two women had just signed up as members of their community’s Village Disaster Management Committee, a group of people tasked with helping reduce the impact of disasters. The group oversees the work of three Task Forces – smaller groups of people who spread awareness of incoming hazards such as floods or cyclones, coordinate search and rescue efforts following a disaster and provide first aid to survivors.

“I signed up to the First Aid Task Force because I want to take care of injured people”, Daw Myint told me.

Older people can often be seen as a burden during emergencies, but Daw Myint explained why it is important that they are involved in community preparedness activities. “Older people can give ideas and suggestions to younger people,” she affirmed.

Valuing the contributions of older people, as well as other particularly vulnerable groups such as women, is crucial if all members of a community are to be able to survive disasters and rebuild their lives afterwards.

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