Age and disability-inclusive response by disaster relief authorities can save the lives of many
Pakistan is currently experiencing one of its worst floods ever. A third of the country is under water. It is estimated that 33 million Pakistanis have been affected by the floods, and more than 1,100 people have died. According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), at least 72 of the 160 districts in the country are disaster-hit. In addition to other infrastructure, 287,000 homes have been completely destroyed and 662,000 have been partially damaged. More than 735,000 livestock and 2 million acres of crops have been destroyed. It is significant to note that this year's June to August rainfall across the country was almost 200 percent more than the average for the previous 30 years. Pakistan is one of the ten countries most affected by climate change. The government of Pakistan and the United Nations have launched an appeal to support the flood-affected people. An appeal for $160 million was made.
Since the calamity first emerged, rescue and relief operations have begun; in the days to come, recovery will take place. Many national and international organisations are developing emergency response plans that will soon be put into action. Now is the moment to take into account that emergency response plans must be inclusive and address the needs and concerns of all vulnerable groups, including older people and persons with disabilities. It has been noted in the past that while providing aid to those affected by a disaster, the limited mobility of older persons and those with a disability are often ignored. Services, including health, food, nutrition, water supply and sanitation, are hardly developed, keeping in view the needs of older people and persons with disabilities. It is important to collect data on older people and persons with disabilities as well. Collecting age and disability-specific data will help in the development of inclusive programmes and policies.
In times of crisis and calamity, older people are more vulnerable. Their life is often at risk, as they need specific health care measures. In older persons, heart disease, diabetes and hypertension are common. According to the International Diabetes Foundation (IDF), 26.7 percent of all adults in Pakistan are living with diabetes. This is the highest national prevalence in the world. Diabetes patients must take their prescribed medications on time, such as insulin. A failure to do so could put elderly people's lives in danger.
It has been noted in the past that while providing aid to those affected by a disaster, the limited mobility of older persons and those with a disability are often ignored. Services, including health, food, nutrition, water supply and sanitation, are hardly developed, keeping in view the needs of older people and persons with disabilities.
The nutritional needs of older persons must also be considered because of the various illnesses and ailments that limit their food choices. For instance, those with diabetes cannot consume foods containing sugar, while individuals with hypertension must limit their salt intake. Unfortunately, these factors are not taken into consideration in the design of the food baskets. It is essential for emergency responders to design the food basket in a way that is inclusive for all. When designing food programmes, elderly people's nutritional needs must be taken into consideration. Additionally, older people's medications must be available in the medical camps set up in disaster areas, and the staff there must be aware of their needs.
Disasters always have a psychological impact, which is particularly severe for the elderly. To consider older people's mental health, measures for psychosocial counselling and assistance should be developed.
Older people frequently miss out on services because they are unable to walk far or stand in a long queue due to a variety of health issues and disabilities. It can be highly difficult and challenging for older people and persons with disabilities to access the central distribution points; it is crucial that they are supported to make the services accessible. The same holds for water and sanitation services, as older people regularly require these services. However, when distances are long, older people and persons with disabilities find it extremely challenging to access washrooms.
When constructing new shelters or repairing damaged shelters in camp settings, it is crucial to take into account the need to construct latrines close to places where elderly people are living. In camps, make sure older people are placed in areas with access to restrooms and water sources. It is crucial that the road leading to the restrooms be levelled and made accessible for wheelchair users and those with mobility challenges.
Pakistan is one of those 15 countries in the world where the number of people of age 60 and above is more than 10 million. The number of older people in the country is estimated to be 16 million. According to international surveys and the World Health Organisation (WHO), 15 percent of a country's population has a disability. Since Pakistan's population is roughly 220 million, 15 percent equals 33 million people.
The number of persons with disabilities is rising, as it is directly proportionate to the number of people who are getting older. According to estimates, globally, 46 percent of older persons have a disability, which indicates that about every other older person has a disability.
The author is a communications specialist and a freelance writer. He is based in Rawalpindi and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @qureshiwaqasA