The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and HelpAge International Monday issued a joint call for greater involvement of older persons in disaster management efforts worldwide in order to bring down death toll among those who are over 60.

The General Assembly of United Nations on 21st December 2009 designated 13 October as the date to observe International Day for Disaster Reduction. The objective of this day is to raise awareness about the importance of reducing the risks of disasters. The theme for observing this day in 2014 is “ageing population and disasters” because older people are amongst the vulnerable groups in the society, and this vulnerability becomes double or triple during emergency situations.

It is important to mention here that the world is ageing and experiencing a demographic shift, the number of people over the age of 60 will be more than children under 14 by 2050. The people who turn 60 each year worldwide are nearly 58 million, equivalent to almost two persons every second. In 2012, people aged 60 or over represent almost 11.5 per cent of our total global population of 7 billion. By 2050, the proportion is projected to nearly double to 22 per cent.

While the ageing population is to be celebrated, as it represents the triumph of development and improvements in healthcare, the combination of more extreme climate events and an ageing population has the potential to increase older people’s vulnerability to risks and disasters, especially in low and middle-income countries.

Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world and is among one of those 15 countries where people over the age of 60 are more than 10 million. It is estimated that 7% of the total population of Pakistan is over 60 with a figure of 11.6 million and this figure will rise to 43.3 million by 2050.

Pakistan is affected by different catastrophes which include natural disaster, violence and conflicts negative affecting people’s lives. In the event of a disaster, vulnerability of vulnerable groups including older people increase manifolds. All too often, disasters result in avoidable and disproportionate loss of life and impoverishment among older people whose vulnerabilities and capacities are overlooked, even though they have the same rights as other age groups to protection from physical and psychological harm.

It is important to include needs and capacities of older people in disaster resilience mechanisms. By including older people in the planning and implementation of disaster preparedness and response activities, the impact of disasters on older people’s lives and livelihoods can be significantly reduced, and older people can be supported to build more resilient livelihoods.

An International survey conducted for today’s International Day for Disaster Reduction demonstrates that older persons are often excluded or marginalized when disaster management plans are being drawn up at community level. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they did not know who was responsible for disaster preparedness in their communities and 68 percent do not participate at all in such activity.

UNISDR and HelpAge International have urged the governments to sign up to Charter 14 for older people in disaster risk reduction and commit to specific inclusion of older persons in all facets of disaster management planning with a strong emphasis on early warnings and evacuation procedures.