Report on Malawi’s response to cyclone exposes challenges for elderly in disasters

A rapid needs assessment report on the country’s response to Cyclone Idai has exposed challenges that elderly people face in accessing humanitarian assistance in times of disaster.

Minister of Homeland Security’s visit to disaster affected households in the area of T/A Kanduku in
Mwanza.

The report, released on Tuesday by Malawi Network of Older Persons Organisations (Manepo) in Lilongwe, shows that older people are the worst affected by any type of emergency and they also take longer to recover.

Manepo executive director Andrew Kavala said when he presented the report to government and other humanitarian aid agencies that there is need to streamline needs of senior citizens whenever planning or packaging aid.

He said based on the findings, older people’s priorities are food, shelter, cash, hygiene items and beddings.

To this effect, Kavala said there is need for agencies packaging humanitarian aid to ensure that the voices of older people are being reflected in their designs.

“We don’t want these boardroom decisions where you sit down and plan something that is not going to respond to specific needs of older men and women,” he said.

According to the report, 99 percent of the elderly do not have enough food while 93 percent say that the little food they have is not appropriate for them.

The report further says 96 percent of older people have no income; hence, though there is enough food on the market, they cannot afford to buy it.

“This strongly suggests that the underlying issue is income security rather than availability of food,” reads the report.

In early March, heavy rains and floods affected 15 districts in the Southern and Central regions with Chikwawa and Nsanje being the most affected.

The situation worsened when Cyclone Idai reached the country having made a landfall in neighbouring Mozambique on 14 March.

Manepo and HelpAge International jointly conducted the needs assessment in the two districts the same month.

Minister of Homeland Security Nicholas Dausi launched the needs assessment report in the presence of Irish Ambassador Gerry Cunningham, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) country representative Young Hong, other aid agencies and some senior citizens.

Kavala said Manepo was optimistic that following the launch, State and non-State actors will see the need to begin packaging their livelihood interventions in response to what older men and women have said.

In his remarks, Dausi said the report offered practical lessons to government and other stakeholders.

He said government has put in place a resilient plan to allow people that would want to wilfully move upland to resettle.

“We want to redesign, reconstruct and resettle people. We have received a lot of non-food items to help the people including the elderly who are willing to resettle,” Dausi said.

In 2018, there were 891 805 people over the age of 60 in the country, equal to five percent of the population.

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