During natural disasters and conflict, the specific needs of older people and people with disabilities are often overlooked. In addition, they are consistently left out of emergency preparedness planning. Inclusion is essential for effective emergency preparedness and humanitarian response, and the humanitarian principles—humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence—demand that humanitarian aid be delivered without distinction as to race, gender, or other status—including age and disability.
In the project “Inclusive Community Preparedness for Sexual and Reproductive Health in Nepal,” the Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN), the Nepal Disabled Women Association (NDWA), the Senior Citizen Care Society (SCCS), and the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) worked together to conduct participatory research in partnership with older people and people with disabilities to learn more about their priorities for disaster preparedness and sexual and reproductive health (SRH). Our research, which was generously supported by Elrha, also explored how older people and people with disabilities can be engaged to lead community-level preparedness, response, and recovery to ensure more inclusive humanitarian action.
In reflecting on their experiences with emergency preparedness and during crises, many participants shared their experiences in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake and the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants said that older people and people with disabilities were not prioritized in emergency preparedness and response, and had to contend with a lack of accessible services and dedicated programming.
However, participants’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic also underscored the capacity of older people and people with disabilities to play leading roles in delivering humanitarian aid and supporting their community. The pandemic, and its attendant lockdowns, restrictions, and disruptions, had a profound impact in Nepal. Many participants reflected that their experience of the pandemic was marked by isolation, loneliness, and grief, especially for older people, and fear and anxiety. People emphasized that the pandemic was tremendously damaging to the mental health and well-being of older people and people with disabilities.
Many participants, through their engagement with NDWA and SCCS, participated in COVID-19 response activities in their communities. This included distributing masks and gloves, food, hygiene kits, menstrual health supplies, and prenatal kits, and sharing information about the pandemic. One member of NDWA shared her experience of organizing support groups and yoga classes over Zoom to combat isolation and provide psychosocial support and connection for her community during lockdowns.
Organizations of people with disabilities (OPDs) and older persons’ associations (OPAs) are active in communities all over the world, including in communities affected by crises. When asked how community-level emergency preparedness should be organized to support the inclusion of older people and people with disabilities, participants stressed the importance of understanding and leveraging the networks, resources, and programs of OPAs and OPDs in the community. Organizations made up of older people and people with disabilities have unparalleled knowledge of their own priorities and needs and the barriers they face—as well as their resources and capacities. Partnering with and investing in the participation and leadership of older people, OPAs, people with disabilities, and OPDs at every stage of the emergency response cycle will strengthen preparedness, response, and recovery across the board.
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