13th October, the International Day for Disaster Reduction is celebrated every year to show how people and communities are reducing their risk to disasters and raise awareness about the importance of disaster risk reduction (DRR). The significance of DRR has increased even further to tackle the growing number of disasters, conflicts and climate change impacts.
This year has been dedicated to elderly people in order to focus on their specific needs and contributions in reducing disaster risk. We need energy and new ideas of youth to build a just, safe and inclusive society but we can't achieve that without the wisdom and experience of our seniors. As a disaster resilience professional, I have directly experienced how knowledge, skills and guidance of elderly people not only give a historical view but also a futuristic outlook to our risk reduction and adaptation work. They remain the custodians of fast eroding traditional knowledge and resources, be it is about customs, flora and fauna, coping mechanism or resolving local conflicts. While we acknowledge the advancements made by the modern science, the relevance of traditional knowledge and institutions hasn’t diminished.
However, elderly people increasingly face the apathy of the changing society and their voice remains unheard. As a result, they become more vulnerable to disasters. The Japan Tsunami is a case in point where more than half of the deceased were aged over 65. Sadly enough this is not an exception. The resilience building programmes must recognize the special needs of elderly people with regard to nutrition, mobility, healthcare and most importantly psychosocial care.
At ActionAid, we make special effort to reach out to elderly, before and after disasters, not only to help them enjoy basic needs as rights but also recognize them a valuable source of knowledge and experience. We firmly believe that DRR initiatives should be inclusive, particularly of the most vulnerable sections of the population such as women, children, persons with disabilities, elderly, ethnic and religious minorities and groups. ActionAid, in collaboration with Handicap International and Oxfam, recently developed a paper on Inclusive Disaster Risk Management to underscore the importance of inclusion and influence the upcoming DRR framework in 2015. At this occasion, I would like to underline some of the recommendation from the paper concluding that inclusion can only be achieved by:
- Understanding the root causes of exclusion in disaster contexts, identifying excluded groups, and involving them meaningfully in reducing their disaster risks
- Creating a conducive and enabling policy environment that recognizes the causes of exclusion and promotes inclusive strategies and allocation of resources
- Creating an implementation architecture that involves all stakeholders and ensuring community resilience through accountable risk governance