The global ageing mega-trend: let’s all move towards ensuring longevity dividends

March 9, 2012
Richard Blewitt
Mama Teresa, 68, with her grandson, Cornel. She cares for four of her grandchildren.

Global ageing is a great achievement of our times. Rates of ageing in developing countries are increasing three times faster than in Western Europe. But in disaster settings the very organisations set up to deliver to those most in need sadly often end up marginalising older people and people with disabilities. I was part of this community during my time in the Red Cross and when working with Save the Children. We need to stop putting communities in boxes and not addressing their holistic needs; this seems very hard to do. Many older people in disaster settings work hard to keep contributing in their communities and protect children, but we let them down. I worry particularly about the invisibility of older women in humanitarian settings: this needs to change!

A recent survey by HelpAge International highlights that older people end up getting less than 1% of support in humanitarian settings despite making up, on average, 7% of any given disaster-affected population. Yet there are great solutions out there for older people in crisis contexts:

  • Disaggregate and then act on data to address the challenges and opportunities of different age groups and their needs.
  • Provide spaces for older and younger community members to come together and support each other. Age-friendly spaces allow older people to help themselves, e.g. by establishing old peoples’ associations in disaster settings. These structures can also be used for distributing cash to support older peoples businesses and enterprises.
  • Ensure basic medicine is available in clinics for basic non-communicable diseases affecting older people.

In the broader context of recovery and tackling poverty there are answers too; the longevity dividend and a life course perspective need to be at the core of all aid workers thinking:

  • Good resilience-building programs that protect and support older people in times of crisis.
  • Positive efforts to make older people and people with disabilities visible and supported in humanitarian settings.
  • Good basic preventative health systems, keeping us all well and at home for as long as we would like.
  • Good employment practices that enable us to keep economically active for as long as we would like.
  • A basic citizens’ pension for all older people (not coving all needs but giving a basic ‘floor’), thereby empowering them and building fair societies.
  • Support to strengthen the bonds across the generations.

A starting point for all policy makers is to look and understand your demographic transitions. Development and growth is working and we are all living longer; this is fantastic. Engaging older citizens as stakeholders to put in place polices for a great longevity dividend will produce the promise: ageing populations that can participate fully in their societies. Another great staring point is to read the fantastic monograph produced by the Global Agenda Council on Ageing and launched by the Director General of the World Health Organisation Margret Chan in Davos this year.


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