July 30, 2011

PAKISTAN: One year on from Pakistan floods, older people are still struggling

LONDON, England / HelpAge International / July 27, 2011

By Alex Bush 

It may seem utterly inappropriate to throw a party to mark the anniversary of the cataclysmic flooding in Pakistan last July. Nevertheless, during a brief visit the week before last, I was able to join the HelpAge team there to celebrate their achievements over the past year.

Celebrating achievements: Prior to the floods we had two staff working alongside Merlin to make the health services they deliver more age friendly. A year on we have 60 people working across Pakistan who have helped older people to recover from the disaster - rebuilding their homes and their livelihoods and organising themselves to access a range of government and NGO services.

Our partnership with Merlin provided health services to 180,000 older people. With Merlin and the Ministry of Health, we ensured that 17 health centres provided free consultations, eye care, counselling and health education to older people.

As the floods subsided, we established 20 older people's associations to support older people's recovery efforts. Through these associations we have provided cash grants to 1,200 older people and their families to buy food, repair houses, pay off loans, start small businesses and replace tools or livestock lost in the floods.

Older people are better prepared for disaster:  Flooding season is upon us again and river levels are rising. A repeat of last year's inundation seems extremely unlikely but if there is even minor flooding, older people will be better prepared. I was able to attend a training session where older people's community groups were working through the issues of safe havens, search and rescue, prioritising the injured for medical care, pre-positioning of emergency supplies and a range of other issues.

In conversation with the District office of the Social Welfare Ministry, it became clear that the government is far more aware of the particular issues facing older people and has even begun to make some budgetary allocations to them. This is not due only to lobbying by HelpAge but to the activities of the local older people's groups who are clearly well known to local officials.

Isolation a major issue for older people: One of the interventions that we have consistently made in emergencies affecting older people is the provision of mobility aids - especially crutches and wheelchairs. Isolation is such an issue for many older people that anything that enables them to be more active and social is a real benefit.

We have continued to provide these long beyond the initial emergency period. In the towns and villages around Nowshera, the relatively good state of the streets means that wheelchairs can be used and previously housebound older people can be more mobile.

I was able to meet an older man participating in the training session who was proudly "out and about" for the first time in several months in his brand new chair - total cost about £50. This seems so little in relation to the impact it will have on his life.  Source: HelpAge International
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