REPORT: Older people particularly vulnerable in conflict situations

Dorcas published a report entitled ‘Falling through the cracks’, which concludes that, in Ukraine, older people are particularly vulnerable to suffering the consequences of the war with Russia. The researchers based their conclusion on previously published reports and recent information from Ukraine.

The report states that too little is being done to ensure that the help provided meets direct needs of older people. In the report, the situations in Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan and Ukraine are discussed, and it is concluded that the rights of older people are often not protected well enough. The report suggests a UN human rights convention for the rights of older people as a possible solution for generating more attention for the specific needs of older people.

Loss of social safety net and reduced mobility

One of the causes of the vulnerable position of older people in conflict situations identified by the researchers is the lack of available data. Insufficient measurements are carried out about how many older people stay behind in a certain conflict area, and what the specific needs of these people are. Another reason for the particularly vulnerable position of older people in conflict situations is the sudden loss of the social safety net. Some older people depend on their children, neighbours or acquaintances for food, drinks, medication and so forth. When that social safety net is lost, it becomes much harder for older people to access these basic resources. Furthermore, older people are in general less mobile, as a result of which fleeing to a safe region or reaching a bomb shelter in the case of shelling is difficult or even impossible. This means that, during conflicts, older people will often stay in their homes and are therefore more likely to suffer from artillery attacks or to fall into the hands of one of the fighting parties. This means older people are more likely to become victims of burglary, (sexual) violence or even murder.

Older people in Ukraine fall between the cracks

Stories of older people who stay at home because they are unable to flee are coming from Ukraine. Previous research from the original conflict area in East Ukraine, prior to the large-scale invasion on February the 24th, reveals that 86% of older people have a limited mobility, with over 10% of interviewees being completely immobile. Furthermore, 98% of older people staying behind were found to suffer from one or more chronic illnesses, and 70% of older women had insufficient access to medical support. According to this same study, only 6% of older people in this particular conflict area have received humanitarian support during the past six months. These statistics reveal the vulnerability of older Ukrainians who are unable to flee.

In addition, prior to the escalation of February the 24th, the war with Russia was known as the “oldest conflict in the world”. This means that the percentage of older people experiencing negative consequences due to the war is higher in Ukraine than anywhere else in the world (30 percent). It is therefore feared that, following the escalation, many older people find themselves in a perilous situation without appropriate support. As many residents of Ukraine have fled and the men are obliged to join the fight against Russia, it is feared that older people will end up falling between the cracks without the support they need to access basic resources such as food, drinks and medication. Dorcas therefore calls for more attention to be paid to the effects of armed conflicts on older people so that nobody is left behind.

29 June 2022

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