Today is International Day for Disaster Reduction—a day to reflect on the importance of reducing disaster risks around the globe. This year we pay special attention to the global aging population and how we must include all generations in our disaster planning, preparedness and mitigation efforts.
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the population age 60 or over is the fastest growing demographic globally, and is expected to more than triple to nearly 3 billion by 2100, representing about 28 percent of the projected 10.9 billion people worldwide.
This trend points, in part, to the many successes of international development, which have helped people around the world achieve longer, healthier lives. It also points to our responsibility to ensure that this population is not ignored when we address disaster risks around the globe.
USAID works steadfastly with our partners to ensure that all of our programs are accessible and inclusive to all people, regardless of age. We recognize that older people may be “hidden” within disaster-affected populations and may face constraints in accessing humanitarian assistance, so we take extra steps to identify them during a disaster response, listen to their views and design targeted programs that meet their unique needs where necessary.
We recognize that having this large and growing population of experienced, knowledgeable leaders and volunteers represents an enormous opportunity for communities, especially in terms of improving safety through disaster preparedness.
Take 85-year-old Matilda Blake. She not only single-handedly manages her family farm in Jamaica, she is also a dynamic contributor in her community, serving as an emergency shelter manager when natural disasters threaten the island. She is an active participant in USAID-supported training sessions offered by our partner HelpAge International that help the community better prepare for future disasters.
Stanford Bentley, an 84-year-old Jamaican farmer, also benefits from HelpAge’s training, learning new ways to protect his crops and livestock from extreme weather, while contributing his own energy, insight and experience to disaster preparedness actions in his community. By ensuring that older people’s knowledge and experience is used to its full potential during the planning and preparedness phase, their specific needs will be capably met when a disaster strikes.
In Vietnam, USAID has partnered with the American Red Cross to train hundreds of Vietnam Red Cross staff members and community leaders in disaster and risk management. Just as they do in the United States, these Red Cross staff and volunteers in Vietnam respond to disasters that impact their country. They also help people of all generations to prepare for and manage disaster risk. The Vietnam Red Cross uses an intergenerational approach, connecting primary school students, teachers of all ages and older people with information about disaster risk reduction, community resources and practical skills training. By including people of all ages, the program builds and reinforces a culture of safety throughout all generations in society.
These are just two examples that highlight the many contributions of older people. They illustrate how all generations can learn from and support one another, not only once a disaster has occurred, but also before a disaster by working together to reduce risk and prepare for disasters.
USAID has a proud tradition of standing up for the inclusion of older people when providing humanitarian assistance. We are also committed, in both policy and in practice, to helping reduce disaster risk for all generations in all our programs worldwide. On this International Day for Disaster Reduction, we stand together with all of the hardworking people— young and old—who are helping make their homes, neighborhoods, farms, cities, states, and countries safer, secure, and more resilient places for current and future generations.