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HelpAge International

Name HelpAge International Year formed 1983
Address Head Office, PO Box 32832 London N1 9ZN, UK Chief Executive Todd Petersen

+44 (0)20 7278 7778

Director Mark Gorman
Fax +44 (0)20 7843 1840 Overseas staff 22 expats / 200 local
Email hai@helpage.org HQ staff 46
Internet Http://www.helpage.org

Annual Budget (2000)



Direct Charitable Expenditure






Interview by Jeremy Shoham with Nadia Saim

Peter Da Silva, HelpAge India's emergencies manager with older villagers

HelpAge International (HAI) is a global network of not-for-profit organisations founded in 1983 as an independent charity by a consortium of national organisations1. Its mission statement is to work with and for disadvantaged older people world-wide to achieve a lasting improvement in the quality of their lives. From the original five founding agencies world-wide membership has grown to 43 full members, 24 associate members and 2 institutional members2. HAI's secretariat is based in London. There are four regional development centres (Asia (Thailand), Africa (Kenya), Caribbean (Jamaica) and Latin America (Bolivia)). HAI also works in East and Central Europe, has eight country development programme offices and a world-wide emergencies programme. In 2000, sixty percent of income came from Help the Aged UK and 40 percent from other agencies. These included DfID (9%), EC (14%) and the National Lottery Charities Board (4%).

Older villagers meeting during programme assessment

Field Exchange interviewed HAI's emergency officer, Nadia Saim, in their London office located near Kings Cross. Nadia, whose earlier professional experience includes accountancy, fundraising and development of training programmes for the physically handicapped, started working for HAI two and a half years ago. She has occupied the HAI emergency desk for more than half that period.

Response in Emergencies

Nadia explained how the eight country development programmes had started in an emergency phase when HAI became involved. Help the Aged is a DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) member and responds to DEC requests. HAI implements emergency responses with other members of the DEC where possible. Currently, HAI are involved in emergency programmes in Mozambique, Gujarat, Malawi and Peru. A typical HAI emergency response involves short-term measures targeted at older people followed by longer-term rehabilitation initiatives. For example, following the earthquake in Gujarat, HAI provided food rations for 7,500 older people and their families, in addition to blankets, plastic shelter and cooking equipment.

The current rehabilitation phase involves shelter, agricultural and handicraft support measures for 1,500 older people.

As part of the immediate emergency response HAI will often provide a full food ration (general ration) for older people (and their families) who are not in a recipient population group from food distribution organisations like WFP or other NGOs. They will either do this through local partners (e.g. India), or country development programme (e.g. Mozambique), or set up a programme from scratch (e.g. Kosovo). This type of programme may present problems. For example, in Gujarat other members of the community felt that they also needed food aid. HAI therefore, in some areas, had to go through a longer consultative process with the community before the programme was accepted.

HAI identify vulnerable older people using different criteria in any given emergency, e.g. those over 60 years of age who are isolated and can't care for themselves or those who have to look after grandchildren. As part of the needs assessment HAI will discuss with beneficiaries the type of food ration that is appropriate and culturally acceptable. Very often this means that older people receive a ration which is quite different to the ration being given out by agencies like WFP. For example, in India HIA distributed rations included wheat, rice, millet, sugar, oil, pulses, masala and tea.

Until recently HAI have only been involved in distributing general rations to older people. A recent departure from this has been the implementation of a supplementary feeding programme for malnourished older people and other vulnerable groups in Ethiopia.

Including older people in existing programmes

A core part of HAI work involves advocating for inclusion of older people in other agencies programmes, and raising awareness of the contribution that older people can make to the community, especially following an emergency. For example, following the floods in Mozambique HAI successfully lobbied for inclusion of older people in Caritas's supplementary feeding programmes and in Oxfam's seed distribution. HAI try to get other agencies "to see the old as part of the family and to be included in the mainstream services rather than have special services created for them". However sometimes it can be difficult to convince agencies. For example, HAI found it very difficult to get WFP to accept that older people should be included in supplementary feeding programmes in northern Iraq. It is also proving difficult to get other agencies to modify existing programme delivery to cater for the special needs of older people, e.g. providing special food types or improving access for the older people.

Advocacy with results

One recommendation from the recent DEC evaluation of the Mozambican emergency response was, that HAI should in future determine the success of their advocacy efforts to have older people included in agency emergency interventions.

Over the years HAI have done a great deal of lobbying of UNHCR. This seems to have borne fruit as last year UNHCR finalised a policy on older refugees drawing heavily on the recently published HAI best practice guidelines.

These best practice guidelines were based on an HAI study in four countries (Bosnia, Bangladesh, Rwanda and the Dominican Republic) during 1999. It also drew on experiences from 21 emergency programmes. The aim of the study was to draw out the experiences of older people in emergencies and find out how best to meet their needs. The main findings were:

  • older people were often 'invisible' to humanitarian agencies. Out of 60 agencies questioned, 32 agencies gave children their highest priority and 22 gave older people their lowest priority or no priority at all
  • older people have specific needs during emergencies, e.g. lack of mobility means they need help getting to distribution points, food needs to be palatable/chewable, they may need a fast track queuing system, they often find it difficult to cook and would like to be able to join families that are cooking food, etc.
  • They want to be included in income generating activities so that they can re-build their own lives

The guidelines were written with the specific aim of helping relief agencies meet the special needs of older people in emergencies3.

This isn't the first piece of research conducted by HAI. An earlier and perhaps better-known study conducted by HAI on how to identify malnourished older people was initiated in 1992. This research was undertaken in conjunction with LSHTM4 and after 6 years resulted in a guideline on best techniques for measuring under-nutrition in the older people5.

Contribution of older people to society

In the emergency sector Nadia sees the main challenges still facing HAI as "breaking the barriers of invisibility which engulf older people" and "getting others to recognise the enormous economic and social contribution older people can make". For example, " older people have a historical knowledge of the community and can identify the most vulnerable. They also know different coping strategies that can be employed in times of crisis. Also, experience has shown, for example in Rwanda, that in times of civil unrest, age confers advantage in terms of conflict resolution skills."

Note: HAI are in the process of publishing a recent study on 'Addressing the nutritional needs of older people during emergency situations'. A summary of this report was included in Issue 12 (April 2001) of Field Exchange.

For further details contact: Dolline Busolo, Regional Nutritionist, HelpAge International, Africa Regional Development Centre, P.O. Box 14888 Westlands, Nairobi, Kenya. Tel: 254 2 444289/4469691/449407. Fax: 254 2 441052 or Email: helpage@net2000ke.com

1Help the Aged UK, HelpAge India, Help the Aged Canada, HelpAge Kenya and Pro Vida Columbia

2Full members are national, not for profit organisations which provide services for, or represent older people as the main focus of their work. Associate members include organisations interested in older people as one aspect of their work. An institutional member is for example the department of an academic institution working on older people policies and research.

3Older People in Disasters and Humanitarian Crises: Guidelines for Best Practice. HelpAge International (2001)

4London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

5See Field Exchange, issue 3, Jan 1998

Imported from FEX website


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