An elderly woman stands on a flooded street in Jakarta's business district, Indonesia, Jan. 29, 2014. REUTERS/Beawiharta
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For the second year in a row, the world has held its breath on the eve of the International Day for Disaster Reduction while watching how the world’s largest democracy, India, would cope with a severe cyclone packing winds of up to 200 km per hour.
So far casualties seem to have been kept low as Cyclone Hudhud slammed into the state of Andhra Pradesh - but economic losses will be significant. As was the case with Cyclone Phailin on Oct. 12 last year in neighboring Odisha, Andhra Pradesh has done an excellent job of disseminating early warnings, carrying through with evacuations, and minimising loss of life.
Similarly in Japan, the most disaster-prone country in the world, disaster management won the day this weekend. Disaster preparedness, the essence of disaster risk reduction, has ensured that the population in the path of Cyclone Vongfong escaped the worst, despite some casualties.
These achievements in the face of extreme weather events - despite growing exposure on built-up coastlines - are a testament to the strong shift in attitudes and culture that has taken place over the last decade of implementing the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), the world’s guide to reducing disaster risk which was adopted after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
The HFA decade has made a difference, and many people are alive today because many more countries and communities are not only aware of what needs to be done to protect themselves from disasters, but are taking active measures to ensure these things are done.
Nonetheless, over the last four years, we have dedicated the International Day for Disaster Reduction to shining a light on how large groups of people are often overlooked or marginalised when it comes to disaster management.
In 2011, children were the focus. Women and girls came under the spotlight in 2012. And in 2013, we ran a survey of people living with disabilities which received almost 6,000 responses from around the world, painting a very human picture of how difficult it can be to get the voices and experience of disabled people into disaster planning and management.
Today is all about age-inclusive disaster risk reduction. It’s a tragic fact that even in developed countries, older persons die and are injured in disproportionately large numbers in major disaster events.
Everyone wishes this was not so, but what can we do about it? One thing is to listen to what older people have to say. The wisdom and experience of age is highly prized in indigenous cultures for good reason.
An interim look at responses to a survey by the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and HelpAge International reveals that many people aged over 60 – 11 percent of the global population – feel ignored in their communities.
The majority of older people fearful of floods, cyclones, typhoons and heat waves say they do not know who is responsible for disaster preparedness in their communities and 70 percent would like to be able to explain to disaster planners what their special needs and vulnerabilities are.
Globally, life expectancy continues to rise. There will be more than 2 billion people aged over 60 on this planet in 30 to 40 years’ time. Many older persons are fitter than this age group has ever been in the past. Large numbers are actively engaged in volunteer activity in their communities. Grandparents often play a major role in child rearing.
Today we have enlisted the support of over 4 million people on Twitter – the number is growing all the time – to send out a message across the world about the need for age-inclusive disaster risk reduction.
UNISDR and HelpAge International are asking governments to sign up to Charter 14 for Older Persons in Disaster Risk Reduction, to ensure that older people are specifically mentioned in national disaster management and climate policies, and that they are consulted.
Early warnings and knowledge of evacuation plans should be just as available and actionable for them as for any other members of the community.
Today, let’s remember that resilience is for life!
Margareta Wahlström is the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).