On the eve of the International Disaster Day focused on the elderly this year, disaster experts said the country is not well prepared to take care of senior citizens in times of crises.
According to the 2011 census, around eight percent of the country’s population is 60 years and above. This age group is particularly vulnerable to disasters because of the host of physical and mental problems that come with ageing. The elderly are also financially weak to bounce back easily afterwards. “Despite this reality, we have no data on how many senior citizens are affected by disasters every year,” said Bishal Nath Uprety, chairperson of the Disaster Preparedness Network-Nepal (DPNet), an association of organisations working in disaster management.
Every year, the National Emergency Operations Centre at the Ministry of Home Affairs publishes a tally of people killed, disappeared, injured and affected by natural disasters. The data, however, is not disaggregated to show the number of affected senior citizens, women, children and the disabled. For instance, since June this year, 265 people were killed in natural disasters, 256 disappeared and 169 injured. Around 206,841 people were directly and indirectly affected. However, the number of the elderly who perished or endured is unknown.
Uprety said the government was requested to break down the data by sex, age and disability. “Without data, preparedness is ineffective. The elderly population too should be divided further into 60+, 70+ and 80+ categories because the vulnerability increases as we get older,” Uprety said.
This, however, should not mean that the elderly are helpless and dependent population, warn disaster professionals. “Old people are full of experience and knowledge related to disasters. We should consult with them and tap into that information,” Uprety said. Disaster professionals also said special provisions need to be incorporated for the elderly in the upcoming Disaster Management Act, which is yet to be finalised and tabled at the Parliament. As the ageing population is increasing every year, dilly-dallying now would cost heavily later, experts warned. The percentage of population aged 60 years and above in 2001 was 6.5 and is expected to cross nine percent in ten years.
Home Secretary Surya Prasad Silwal admitted that the government overlooked the concerns of the elderly and was willing to remedy that. To mark the International Disaster Day, the Home Ministry and DPNet are organising a week-long programme across the country.