Older persons

DRR drill with older persons DRR drill with older persons HelpAge International

Learn about older persons in disaster contexts, megatrends of ageing populations, the importance of responding to this in disaster risk reduction strategies, and discover a wealth of resources, portals, case studies, videos and contacts related to inclusion and older people.

Definition of Ageing

When talking about ageing, it is essential to distinguish between population or demographic ageing as “the process whereby older individuals become a proportionately larger share of the total population ” (defined by UNDESA) and individual ageing, the process of individuals growing older. A report from UNFPA/HelpAge Internationalpdf describes the individual process of ageing as “multidimensional and involves physical, psychological and social changes and can result in differential experiences of health, well-being and socio-economic experiences of later life.”

There is no agreed definition of older or old people and people differ widely in what they consider to be old. Members of each age band are very heterogeneous groups. However as the WHO states, older people can be “generally defined according to a range of characteristics, including: chronological age, change in social role and changes in functional abilities .”

The United Nations uses 60 years to refer to older people. This line, which divides younger and older cohorts of a population, is also used by demographers. However, in many developed countries, the age of 65 is used as a reference point for older persons as this is often the age at which persons become eligible for old-age social security benefits. With increasing longevity some countries define a separate group of oldest people, those over 85 years

Global ageing trends

In 2014, approximately 868 million people or nearly 12 per cent of the world’s population were over the age of 60. By 2050 – just over a generation away – there will be 2 billion people over 60, nearly as many as children under 15, according to the 2014 Global Age Watch Indexpdf published by HelpAge International. Population ageing is happening in all regions and in countries at various levels of development. It is progressing fastest in developing countries which are currently home to 60 per cent of the world’s older people, projected to rise to 80 per cent by 2050. Of the current 15 countries with more than 10 million older persons, seven of these are developing countries (UNFPA/HelpAge Internationalpdf).

Why is older people inclusion in DRR important?

Alongside rapid population growth and population ageing, unsustainable land use, biodiversity loss and global warming are leading to greater environmental and climatic risks. A report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014 warned that climate change has become a threat to life and livelihoods while also being a factor in the rise of mega-disasters.

The report Disaster Resilience in an Ageing Worldpdf, published by UNISDR & HelpAge International, warns us all that “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. All too often, disasters (whether slow or rapid onset) result in avoidable and disproportionate loss of life and impoverishment among older people, whose vulnerabilities and capacities are overlooked in disaster preparedness and response initiatives .“

Vulnerabilities and Capacities of Older People in a Disaster Risk Reduction Context

There are four key reasons explaining older people’s heightened vulnerability in the face of climate-related shocks:

  1. Physical decline that comes with ageing, which can include poor health, mobility, sight and hearing.
  2. Lack of provision of adequate services for older people, both on a daily basis and in emergency situations.
  3. Age discrimination, which serves to exclude and isolate older people, and often violates their rights.
  4. Poverty levels among older people, often exacerbated by lack of social protection mechanisms and livelihood opportunities.

At the same time, older people have a lifetime of experience, knowledge and skills that are vital to understanding local environmental hazards and their impacts. It is therefore vital to recognise older men and women’s capacities, and support them to make a significant contribution to all stages of disaster management activities, from risk assessment through to operational response and recovery. As well as their knowledge and experience, older people can make other important contributions:

  1. As village elders and traditional knowledge-holders, older people can be a valuable source of information on local hazard and risk profiles, and sustainable community-based mitigation strategies.
  2. Older people may not be as heavily engaged in day-to-day economic activities as younger people, and so may be able to spend more time on DRR actions, while encouraging other community members to get involved too.
  3. Older women, in particular, play an important role in supporting family members and grandchildren. As well as having their own protection needs during a crisis, their role as carers of other vulnerable groups also needs to be considered.
  4. Older people can be strong agents for change when it comes to DRR. They generally have the ability to reflect, and to benefit from hindsight, and are strongly motivated by wanting to make the world a safer place for their grandchildren (see Disaster Resilience in an Ageing Worldpdf).

Resources selected for you

  • Disaster Risk and Age Index. Published by HelpAge International, 2015  [pdfENGLISH1.91 MB]
  • UNFA, Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: A Celebration and A Challenge  [pdfENGLISH6.1 MB]
  • UNISDR, Disaster Resilience in an Ageing World. Published by HelpAge International, 2014  [pdfENGLISH1.84 MB]
  • Minimum Standard Checklist for Including Older People in Disaster Risk Reduction  [pdfENGLISH467.96 KB]
  • Minimum Standards for Age and Disability Inclusion in Humanitarian Action [ENGLISH]
  • Disaster Management for All: The inclusion of children, elderly people and people with disabilities. Published by BMZ [pdfENGLISH3.37 MB]
  • Fact Sheet on Older People and Disaster: Pan American Health Organisation  [pdfENGLISH2.19 MB]
  • Older People in Emergencies; Considerations for Action and Policy Development, the Hutton Report  [pdfENGLISH6.45 MB]

Links to existing portals/key websites

Case studies

Building the resilience of rural communities in the Bolivian lower altiplano

HelpAge International has worked with local communities in Bolivia, and its older people in particular, to gather knowledge on the range of issues that they confront on a daily basis. Older people highlighted that the changing conditions has severely impacted upon their agricultural livelihoods. THe case study shows how ancestral knowledge could be used for climate adaption in the Bolivian Lowlands through farming techniques adequate to older people. [docxDownload the case study here752.2 KB]



  • HelpAge International: Clodagh Byrne | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • HelpAge International: Clare Harris | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Bolivia - Older people confront climate change HelpAge International

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