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Older Persons Caught in Armed Conflict and Other Emergency Situations

GAA United Nations Advocacy 
| Background Documents | Current Issues

Events | Links

Older people who are victims of violent conflicts in many parts of the world face serious problems. They cannot escape due to lack of mobility or physical strength and become targets of violence and reprisals. As families and communities disintegrate, older persons may be left isolated, destitute and without support systems. They are often less able to adapt to a difficult new environment and face obstacles to secure relief, social services and employment. When the conflict ends, their experience and potential for peace-building and social reconstruction may be ignored. 

Similarly, when natural disasters such as floods, droughts, famines or other emergencies strike a community, older people face many difficulties. Often others pushe elderly out of food or transport lines. Older persons do not receive adequate rations or stipends, do not secure needed medications, and become invisible within families. In spite of these obstacles, older persons often take care of children and others who are sick or dependent as well as take on maintenance work to restore the community.

The Madrid International Plan of Action on Aging (MIPAA), adopted by UN Member States in 2002, refers to the situation of older persons in emergency situations under its Priority Direction 1: Older persons and development. MIPAA focuses on equal access to food, shelter and medical care. In addition, it urges recognition of and support for contributions of older persons to their communities after an emergency situation. 

Global Action on Aging advocates for the adoption of more comprehensive and internationally binding policies addressing the problems and potential contributions of older persons at all stages of an emergency situation.

This section, launched in spring 2003, provides information on the legal and humanitarian aspect of older persons in emergency situations along with materials that Global Action on Aging has submitted to international bodies. The section also follows developments in line with MIPAA’s recommendations. 


GAA United Nations Advocacy

Checklist for Older Persons in Internally Displaced Persons Camps (August 2005)

Global Action on Aging and Help Age International cooperated to prepare a Check List for the UN Secretary General's Special Representative to Internally Displaced Persons. Dr. Walter Kaelin from Switizerland had noticed the preponderance of older persons in some of the first IDP camps he visited. His staff asked for a short checklist tailored to indicators of older persons' well-being in the camps. In response to his query, GAA and HAI produced this short check list for his use. 

Global Action on Aging Addresses UN Economic and Social Council on Protecting Older Persons in Situations of Armed Conflict (June 30, 2004)
Global Action on Aging presented this statement on protecting older persons in situations of armed conflict, especially the Least Developed Countries, to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in its High Level Segment session. One of only ten non-governmental organizations that spoke, GAA outlined what ECOSOC could do as well as responses that NGOs must take. This occasion marked the first time that GAA has addressed the Council since achieving special consultative status in 2003. It recognized GAA's policy work in humanitarian protection of civilians.
Statement available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish

Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Older Persons (September 16, 2003)
Global Action on Aging and Help Age International submitted this statement to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for consideration in preparing its periodic report to the UN Security Council. The report summarizes the issues facing older persons in armed conflict, outlines international standards and commitments for their safety and submits recommendations for their protection.


Background Documents

International Legal Standards, Principles and Commitments
A compilation of documents on  protection of civilians in conflict situations, such as the Geneva Convention, the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the Convention Relating to the Status  of Refugees and lists the agencies and organizations enforcing these rights.  

The Elderly in Situations of Armed Conflict (May 22, 2001) 
During the armed conflicts that have occurred since the adoption of the four Geneva Conventions, the proportion of civilian casualties has moved higher, reaching 90% in some cases. Among them, the elderly pay a heavy toll. The elderly do have a protection under the International Humanitarian Law which is not based upon categories of people. It means the elderly are considered as a "vulnerable" group as women or children. The law contains some provisions relating to the elderly but nothing about them in particular. There is for instance nothing about the age at which an individual is considered to be "elderly." That's why Françoise Krill from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (ICRC) proposes different initiatives in this paper to give more specific protection to the elderly. The ICRC continues with its mission to spread knowledge of international humanitarian law, protect the civilian population, visit persons deprived of their freedom and provide medical and food aid. 

Older People in Disasters and Humanitarian Crises: Guidelines for Best Practice (2000)
Sponsored by the  UN's High Commissioner for Refugees and the Aid Department of the European Commission, Help Age International compiled these guidelines for aid workers in the field. The guidelines aim to integrate older people into mainstream relief services and to ensure their equal access to these services. While the document is very comprehensive and gives good guidance it remains unclear if field agencies really make use of it. 

Current Issues

Africa | Americas | Asia / Pacific | Europe / Central Asia
  Middle East & North Africa | Global


Jordan-Syria: Elderly Syrian Refugees Need More Care (June 29, 2012)
Many Syrian refugees in Jordan are in need of mental and physical support. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has been able to help over 85,000 Syrian refugees registered in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. However, there is not enough funding to adequately help older refugees in need of surgery, physiotherapy, and psychological care.   

Palestine: Older Man Released After He Was Imprisoned by His Family for 3 Years (May 23, 2011)
(Article in Arabic)
Gaza police detectives found and released an older person who was trapped in a room for 3 years.  His family was punishing him because he had killed one of his friends by mistake.  He ended up being a pensioner in that small room for 3 years.

Japan: Rescuers Find 80-Year-Old Woman, 16-Year-Old Grandson in Rubble 9 Days after Quake (March 20, 2011)

(Article also in Arabic)
An 80-year-old woman and her teenage grandson were rescued Sunday in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, after the youth was able to pull himself out of their flattened two-story house nine days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Israel : The Murder of an Older Person with 14 Bullets (January 8, 2011)

(Article  in Arabic)
Israeli army soldiers committed a shocking crime while trying to arrest Hamas activists. They killed Amro Alkawasimy, a 66 year old Palestinian by shooting him with 14 bullets in his home in Hebron. The victim’s son accused the Israeli Army of killing his father in cold blood when they shot his sleeping father, pumping 13 bullets into his head and 1 into his heart.

Pakistan: Pakistan Floods Spreading Fast and Affecting Millions (August 11, 2010)
Floods in Pakistan could affect up to one million older persons. Relief organizations are distributing aid to vulnerable old people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. More than 1,600 persons have died in the monsoon floods. Despite mass evacuations, many fear the death toll will rise as the floods reach the southern province of Sindh and as the risk of water-borne disease outbreaks increases.

Haiti: Six Months on: Older Haitians Still Need Support (July 12, 2010)

Six months after January’s devastating earthquake, older people have voiced their frustration at being excluded from humanitarian assistance such as cash-for-work programs. The situation for elders in Haiti before the earthquake was already very fragile. More than 70 percent of the population was living on less than two US dollars per day. Older people in particular depend heavily on remittances from the US via family and friends.

Nigeria: Niger Delta Elders Declare August 11 Non-Violent Day (August 11, 2009)
In an effort to bring lasting peace to the Niger Delta region, leaders of various groups within the region met yesterday and declared August 11 to be a day of non-violent action. All workers in the Niger Delta region are expected to stay at home, and any violation of the communiqué signed by Ijaw Leader Chief Edwin Clark will be seen as an unfriendly act towards the people of the Niger Delta. This communiqué instructs the people to embark on a nationwide rally. 

Gaza: Gaza (August 4, 2009)

A new HelpAge International program in Gaza has been giving voice to concerns, fears, and aspirations of older men and women affected by the recent war. The main wish for these old people is for their homes to be rebuilt so they can live in them before they die. Many discussed their desire to see their children living outside of Palestine, previously impossible because of the border closures. This work with the National Agency for Family Care is part of HelpAge International’s first program in Gaza. The two hope to continue to work together to set up community groups led by older men that will provide assistance, home-based care and psychological support to the elderly populations. 

Argentina: Each Month Over 30 Older Persons Attacked by Delinquents (June 15, 2009)
(Article in Spanish)
According to a recent report conducted in Buenos Aires, on average 30 older persons die each month as a result of extreme violence from thieves attempting to rob them of their belongings. In 2007 the Department of Justice of the nation registered a total of 295 elders murdered in the country. It is crucial that families and neighbors remain alert and help older persons to avert future violent attacks.

Gaza: Six Months Later, Older Persons Still Suffer from Israeli Attacks (May 28, 2009)
Recently, Senior Liaison Officer from the UNRWA, Saahir Lone, sat down with the NGO working group on Israel/Palestine to discuss the current situation. The people of Gaza face a critical problem, one of “access” to many goods necessary for reconstruction of both homes and institutions (such as the damaged medical infrastructure). Furthermore commercial goods such as medications and foodstuffs are not allowed into the region, leaving vulnerable groups and specifically older people at a very high risk.

World: Refugees Join List of Climate-Change Issues (May 28, 2009)
A thorny debate has emerged over govenrment’s responsibilities for the millions of people, including many older persons, likely to be displaced soon by climate change. There could be 200 million of these climate refugees by 2050, depending on the degree of climate disturbances. In the coming days, the UN General Assembly is expected to adopt the first resolution linking climate change to international peace and security. As it is, the compromise resolution does not mention specific steps, one of the reasons it is expected to pass. The UK which introduced climate change as a Security Council discussion topic supports it, along with most of Europe, while other permanent Council members (namely, the United States, China and Russia) generally backed the measure once it no longer explicitly demanded Council action. 

Pakistan: As Conditions Worsen in Swat Valley, Many Older People are Stranded in the Combat Zone (May 27, 2009)
(Article in Arabic)
This article covers a recent bombing in the Swat Valley in Northwestern Pakistan, part of the growing violence and unrest in the country as the Pakistani government struggles to oust the Taliban from the region. In the shooting and car bombing targeting regional Pakistani intelligence, there were at least 30 casualties and over 300 injuries. The Pakistani army fought fiercely in this region but these actions have placed civilians at high risk, generating a rapidly worsening refugee crisis (numbering close to 2.38 million people). As in most situations of armed conflict, older people and other vulnerable groups are at particularly high risk. According to UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond, of even larger concern are the many older persons who, unable to leave the combat zone, are stranded amidst the fighting.

Iraq: Increased Violence and Bombings along Iraqi Border Put Older People at Risk (April 24, 2009)
(Article in Arabic)
A recent suicide bombing in North-Eastern Iraq targeting Iranian Religious Pilgrims on their way to a Shiite shrine, illustrated the vulnerability of older people in situations of violence. This incident, part of a larger trend in the region, resulted in the deaths of 48 people most of who were of older age. The organization that carried out the attack bombed restaurants and rest stops, exploiting the vulnerability of certain groups, particularly older people, who must make more frequent and longer pauses along their journey. According to Iraqi security sources, these attacks could be increasing in the coming months, putting everyone, but particularly older people, at a high risk.

Sri Lanka: Some Movement to Secure Safe Passage for Civilians (April 18, 2009)
The fate of civilians trapped in the 'no-fire zone' has become a major concern for the international community at this stage of the Sri Lankan civil war. The UN Security Council has called on Tamil Tiger rebels to lay down their arms and let the UN help evacuate civilians from the war zone. Talks by top UN officials and veteran Indian diplomat Vijay Nambiar with the Sri Lankan leadership have resulted in some movement in efforts to secure safe passage for civilians trapped in war zones in the island's north. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sri Lanka has stepped up its emergency response. According to the Sri Lankan Government, some 1,800 displaced persons with special needs, particularly the elderly, have been released from the sites, and 1,345 separated families have so far been reunited. 

Gaza: Living in a Nursing Home with Memories of a Recent War (March 8, 2009)
(Article in Arabic)
Rahma Marad spends her days in a nursing home in the Gaza Strip, living in fear and trauma from the most recent escalation of violence in the region. The hospital where she resides houses older women who do not have families that can care for them. During the recent heavy Israeli shelling, the hospital sustained bombing and destruction that left it barely habitable, also destroying hard-to-replace medical equipment. These old women face psychological trauma and fear for their lives, particularly in a place where there is no infrastructure to care for them.


UN Roundtable on Older Persons in the 2004 Tsunami (February 13-14, 2006) 
What happened to older persons in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami? Ignored or engaged? Voiceless or decision-makers? 
Global Action on Aging and Help Age International are asking UN experts, affected government leaders, relief agencies and local NGOs to answer these tough questions. 
Their analyses and ideas at the UN's Commission for Social Development will reveal ways to serve older persons better in emergencies. (The Roundtable, alas, is open only to persons carrying UN accreditation.) 

Global Action on Aging Statement submitted to the MDG Global Watch Side Event at the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Fourth Session, 2005
During the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, a new organization, MDG Global Watch, asked Global Action on Aging to submit a Statement to its Side Event. This NGO wanted us to link older indigenous persons' issues with the UN Millennium Development Goals. Here is the GAA Statement that reviews the continuing practice of powerful corporations that sicken and kill native peoples as they seize and exploit the indigenous people's natural resources.

Global Action on Aging presents: A Speak Out on "Older Indigenous Caught in Armed Conflict" at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (May 17, 2004)
In the second week of the 2004 Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Global Action on Aging organized a side event panel on "Older Indigenous People caught in Armed Conflict." Older Indigenous people, especially women, are very vulnerable in armed conflict situations. It is very hard for them to access humanitarian aid even when it is available. They don't have the strength to fight for food. Some relief workers also believe that old people are about to die, so there is no need to help them. Here is a summary of the speeches from the different speakers present.


Work of Inter-governmental and Non-governmental Organizations
This page summarizes the work of Intergovernmental and other Non- governmental organizations and details their work and publications on elderly caught in emergency situations.  

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