Center for Rebuilding Sustainable Communities after Disasters

at the University of Massachusetts Boston

Maps & Directions

2010 Conference: Rebuilding Sustainable Communities with the Elderly and Disabled People

Conference Overview

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has estimated that between 1987 and 2007, about 26 million older people were affected each year by natural disasters alone and that this figure could more than double by 2050 due to the rapidly changing demographics of ageing. Correspondingly, a recent report by Baylor College of Medicine and the American Medical Association (Recommendations for Best Practices in the Management of Elderly Disaster Victims) has computed that 74% of the approximately 1,200 people who died as a result of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were over 60 years old and 50% were over age 75. The elderly comprised only 11.7% of the total population. Furthermore, the February 2006 United Nations Roundtable (Elderly Sidelined in Recovery Efforts) noted that thousands of elderly people were neglected in the initial aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami because of their inability to compete with younger survivors for scarce resources and because they were largely excluded from international aid efforts. The Roundtable also observed that almost 14% of the 300,000 deaths, and nearly 93% of the 1.5 million displaced persons in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, the four hardest-hit countries, were over 60 years old.

People with disabilities (physical, medical, sensory or cognitive) are equally at risk of utter neglect during and after disasters. The Australian Agency for International Development estimates that 650 million people across the world have a disability and about 80 per cent of the population with a disability live in developing countries. The Asia-Pacific region is home to two-thirds of this population. Similarly, according to the United States Census of 2000, nearly one person in five of Americans ages 5 and older in the civilian non-institutionalized population is disabled. The United States’ National Organization on Disability also remarks that 54 million American children, women, and men who have disabilities are among the most vulnerable in disasters.

Furthermore, the Secretariat of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities (SADPD) has calculated that there are about 60 million disabled people in Africa due to malnutrition and diseases, environmental hazards, natural disasters, traffic and industrial accidents, civil conflict and war.

Conference Objectives

There is currently an abundance of documents, plans and policies addressing the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities in the preparedness phase of disaster. Moreover, there have been countless conferences which have examined the challenges that the elderly and people with disabilities face in emergency planning and response.

However, no significant systematic post-disasters’ study has been undertaken with a focus on the long-term, sustainable community recovery and rebuilding needs of this population.

The conference, therefore, addressed the following main issues:

  • The status of the elderly and disabled people in various communities after disasters and the continuing need for superior research and appropriate data
  • The place of the elderly and disabled people in local, regional and national post-disaster reconstruction policies, plans and programs
  • The role and input of the elderly and disabled people in post-disaster reconstruction planning and implementation processes
  • The roles of governments, institutions of higher education, the private sector, non-governmental and community-based organizations in post-disaster reconstruction
  • The promotion of human dignity in the creation of sustainable environments that empower the elderly and disabled people in the aftermath of disasters
  • Integration of the elderly and disabled people into the larger community after disasters
  • The promotion of the human rights of disabled people through full participation, equalization of opportunity and development
  • The role of women with disabilities in the formulation and implementation of reconstruction policies after disaster
  • The participation of children with disabilities in the development and execution of post-disaster plans and programs
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