Disaster Plans Must Address Older Persons

The Ministry of Local Government and Community Development will be pushing for special consideration to be given to persons housed in infirmaries, when long-term plans are being developed to deal with natural disasters.

Senior Director of Hazard Mitigation in the Ministry, Philbert Brown, pointed out that persons in infirmaries are particularly vulnerable during times of disaster and a system must be put in place to rescue them and deal with their needs.

Mr. Brown was representing portfolio Minister, Hon. Noel Arscott, during the presentation of emergency radios to residents of 10 communities in St. Catherine, at a function held recently at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management’s (ODPEM) Kingston offices.

The handing over was part of a training project involving ODPEM, HelpAge International, and Abacus for Communities, to  strengthen the resilience of the targeted communities to natural disasters, and minimize the vulnerabilities experienced by older persons, children and persons with disabilities.

Regional Director of HelpAge International, Jeff James, in supporting

Mr. Brown’s statement, noted that older persons tend to be among the most vulnerable in times of natural disaster, with older men being more affected.

“…Usually in terms of their housing, in terms of the social and material support that older men have in old age, it is negligible when compared to the support for older women,” he said.

He noted that HelpAge International, which is an advocacy body for older persons, operates directly with senior citizens’ clubs and one of the challenges that the body faces is to get the participation of the older men in the activities. He cited a 30 per cent participation by men and noted that this will have to change.

A recent report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and HelpAge International on ‘Ageing and Development in the 21st Century: A Celebration and Challenge’, pointed out that specifically, the elderly “face heightened risks due to health conditions, mobility issues, limited access to aid, medication, food, shelter and emergency supplies.

“In many instances where older persons act as primary care-givers for children whose parents are absent because of migration, illness, or death, older persons lack the benefit of a family support system or community network to assist them in receiving aid. Furthermore, older people, who are forced to seek refuge in shelters in post-disaster scenarios, often face risks of abuse, violence, and exploitation,” the report said.