South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Published in the Financial Express on Oct. 23::

Bangladesh, as one of the disaster hotspots in the world, has significantly improved its disaster management capacity both at national and local levels. Efforts have been made to address disaster risks and uplift living status of the marginalised groups.

Surprisingly, needs of the socially excluded and marginalised groups, e.g. aged citizens, persons with disabilities and women issues are yet to be addressed in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) policy instruments, particularly in implementation phase although women alone constitute 49.40 per cent of population of the country (World Bank, 2012).

Older people constitute 11 per cent while 15 per cent of the population is living with different forms of disability (WHO). The existing DRR policy instruments have limited the definition of ‘inclusion’ by addressing some of physical disabilities including autism. The importance of addressing the needs of marginalised people including aged citizens, by inducting them in different disaster management committees and using their experiences in decision-making process has clearly been ignored.

In the Constitution of Bangladesh, there are numerous provisions that obligate the government to protect the rights and dignity of all citizens of the country equally and without any bias whatsoever. It also allows room for additional and/or supplementary provisions that will ensure that citizens who do not have access to all the public amenities are able to obtain such services.

For upholding the Constitution, there is no dedicated protection regime being developed for older people’s rights while the rights of women, children, and people with disabilities are all protected through formulating respective laws and policies. No special international conventions or standards exist for older people either.

Older people’s rights are also neglected in the current human rights framework as well. For example, of 21,353 recommendations the Human Rights Council made during the entire first round of human rights review process of all UN member-states, only 31 recommendations referred to ‘elderly’ people or people of ‘old age’.

It is obvious that the needs of older people are very different from those of others while humanitarian programmes are designed to meet specific needs. Older people are minimally consulted in planning and execution of humanitarian operations. Due to lack of systematic registration of beneficiaries for food and non-food distribution, older people are excluded.

Older age brings reduced mobility, impaired senses and greater vulnerability to heat and cold reducing their capacity to face these weather conditions. During emergency, food distribution and other relief packages rarely include the particular needs of older people and their specific dietary requirements while the focus for first aid and other health services do not respond to their ongoing needs.

A recent research reveals, 80 per cent of older people in developing countries have no regular income and less than 5 per cent receive a pension. Older people are always excluded from ‘cash for work’ or ‘food for work’ type recovery programmes due to their physical inability while evidently many older people face abuse and violence in their own homes and are deprived of institutional and long-term care facilities. Many are also denied the right to make decisions about their personal finances, property and medical care.

Although older people have been ensured their rights, they are often neglected. They find it physically difficult to access water points, latrine and other sanitation facilities mostly in rural and slum areas while very rare psychological support is availed to them.

Considering the growing needs of the aged, measures should be taken immediately. Appropriate identification of older people can be a major task since there is no appropriate database for them in Bangladesh. Without developing a proper database, no programme will work. During the post-disaster phase, proper assessment, appropriate data collection, registration and monitoring of the data disaggregated by age and sex is inevitable. In developed world, older people’s forum plays a very active role in ensuring their rights. Initiatives can be taken to form similar committees at ward level in rural areas and sector/block/housing society level at urban areas. These would ensure the old people’s rights and make their voices heard.

A very comprehensive package should be considered in relief distribution period while a separate distribution line for older people and persons with disabilities should be made. Inclusive features – such as ramps, handrails, grab bars and lights should be considered in household infrastructure, in line with international guidelines on accessibility.

During preparedness phase, a separate programme can be undertaken to train community workers to identify older people while integrated home-based care-giving training can be introduced. Of older people, women are the most vulnerable. They should be consulted in gender violence prevention and response programmes while those for child protection and safety can be communicated to older care-givers. In different committees including those on water distribution, quality monitoring, and disaster management, older people’s representation should be ensured.

The writer is the National Urban Coordinator at World Vision Bangladesh. ([email protected])