We are living in an era of rapid and unprecedented global ageing. In 2000, one in ten people was 60 years old or over. By 2050, this figure is expected to triple, to 1.9 billion. Most of this increase is taking place in the developing world: of the projected global population of 1.9 billion over-60s by 2050, more than a billion will live in countries where average income is less than $2 a day, and an unknown number will be affected by disasters, crises and conflicts. Thus, while population ageing is unquestionably one of humanity’s major achievements, it also presents a major humanitarian challenge. The needs and capacities of older people affected by emergencies warrant special attention from the humanitarian agencies giving assistance. Such special attention is, however, rarely paid.
This paper summarises the major policy and practice issues affecting humanitarian protection and assistance for older people, and recommends measures to ensure that older citizens caught up in humanitarian crises enjoy equal rights and a fair share of humanitarian resources, and are included in decision-making in programmes that affect their lives. It aims to add to the small body of work relating to protection and assistance issues specific to older people. HelpAge International is one of the few international organisations that works for older people, and its emergency operations are limited. Therefore, the paper highlights gaps in knowledge and areas where further research and work are required, in the hope of stimulating further progress in this important area.