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     Home > Culture & Society  >  2014-01-24 07:32:57
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"3 years on from Japan's tsunami: older people and the impact of displacement"

(Vatican Radio) A major report released on Friday analyses the short and long-term impact of natural disaster on older people, and paves the way for improved humanitarian assistance in the future.

The study, entitled “Three years on from Japan’s tsunami: Older people and the impact of displacement”, not only analyses the disaster’s impact on older people and the subsequent assistance given to them, it gives recommendations on how the needs of older people can be more effectively addressed in humanitarian responses across the world.

The research conducted by HelpAge International and the Japanese Red Cross College of Nursing, shows that a disproportionately high number of older people lost their lives during the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami.

The report highlights the importance of preparedness in reducing unnecessary deaths and suffering in disasters, particularly among older people and the more vulnerable members of society.

As well as promoting specific measures to protect older people from future disasters – in Japan and elsewhere – the report highlights the fact that the knowledge of past disasters and the life experience of older people are a huge resource as communities recover and move forward.

Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni spoke to Eduardo Klien, HelpAge Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, who pointed out that although in Japan older people constitute 29% of the population, nearly 60% of the people who died in the disaster were over the age of 65. That – he says – raised a series of questions, first and foremost: “why this disproportion?”...

Listen to the interview... RealAudioMP3

Eduardo Klien explains that the research is based on HelpAge's experience in humanitarian assistance after a series of disasters like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the cyclone in Myanmar in 2008, floods in the Philippines etc. He says findings show that "there were issues of lack of preparedness, or weak understanding of the evacuation route, that older people and other vulnerable members of society like the disabled could not get to higher ground also because of lack of communications, or lack of community arrangements". There were some plans - he says - "but they were not thorough enough to consider the needs of the older people of the community".

Commenting on the need of older people to be able to socialise in the evacuation centres following a disaster, Klien says older people are extremely receptive to making new friends and acquaintances. He points out that they also "give much comfort to younger people in the centres". Probelms sometimes arise - Klien points out - "when they are moved to temporary housing and they miss their new friends. "This highlights the need to promote the the organization of a social life for older people".

Klien stresses that "older people must not be considered a problem, they can represent a huge resource as they are mobilised in a variety of roles when recovery and reconstruction become operative. In general - he says - they are a resource not only of wisdom but also of practical skills. "That has to be considered in the humanitarian world in future responses to disasters".

Klien says that "one key lesson from the Japan emergency shows the importance of disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction strategies. That has to be at different levels: at a personal level people have to know what to do in case of an emergency - older people for example must know they must take their medicines with them when they evacuate...; at a community level, communities need to know not only how to evacuate, but also who are the vulnerable within the community and will need support; and at national level the coordination of national plans and the rapidness of response is crucial.. and how to build a long term recovery in parallel to the humanitarian response. That - he says - is a challenge and something that the humanitarian world is only now learning".


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