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Sudan Crisis: The Needs of Older People Must be Considered in Emergencies Such as the Darfur Crisis

Contact: HelpAge International London, +44 20 7278 7778

LONDON, Dec. 1 /Standard Newswire/ -- Violence in Darfur has displaced more than 2 million people from their land. This has left them without shelter, with their basic needs unmet, and unable to access their crops.


Photo: Halima Ahmed, 80, lives alone in Goker camp, Darfur.


The United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator now estimates that almost 300,000 people have died from disease and malnutrition. Darfur is considered to be the world's worst ongoing humanitarian crisis.


Many displaced people have sought security in camps. Approximately 8% of these are older people, half of whom live alone.


Women outnumber men and 40% of women in the camps in West Darfur are widows.


Almost a third of older people living in the camps care for orphaned children.


Older people in the camps are rarely targeted in international humanitarian food and health programmes.


They suffer from food insecurity as reduced mobility prevents them from reaching food registration points.


They do not always have access to proper shelter and sanitation and health treatment for chronic diseases and illnesses, such as eye problems, is not available.


Older women are particularly vulnerable because they are sent to collect firewood from outside the camp, as they are considered to be less at risk of rape than younger women.


The effects of prolonged displacement create problems in health care, nutrition and social interaction which go beyond basic needs. A recent HelpAge International report "Rebuilding lives in longer-term emergencies" illustrates the importance of developing longer-term responses across the generational divide which will contribute in rebuilidng communities in Darfur.


HelpAge International's response


HelpAge International is working in seven camps for the displaced – Goker, Riyadh, Sisi, Krinding I, Mornei, Kerenek and Ardamatta– in West Darfur, where there are high concentrations of older people.


HelpAge International is grateful to Help the Aged, ECHO, the Disasters Emergency Committee, UNHCR, BandAid and The Ford Foundation for funding programme work in Darfur.


Achievements to date


Older People's Committees


  • Older people's committees have been established in the camps to represent the needs and rights of older people. The committees act as a point of reference for the international agencies on older people's needs. They also carry out house-to-house visits to identify the most vulnerable people and ensure they are receiving adequate support.

Working with other agencies


  • A HelpAge International protection officer was seconded to the UNHCR in West Darfur to enhance older people's protection rights within the agency's programme response. However, they have now had to leave due to security issues in the region. 
  • We are participating in inter-agency working groups in El Geneina and Khartoum to highlight older people's needs and rights, and their potential contributions to relief efforts. We are also part of the six-agency coordination group for security-related issues. 
  • We have trained humanitarian agencies and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the protection of older people, and have raised awareness among the humanitarian community of their needs and rights.  

Health and Nutrition


  • We have undertaken a health and nutrition assessment that highlights the particular vulnerability of older people in the camps. The assessment is being used to plan further interventions, such as a fresh-food nutrition centre in Krinding I and distribution of WFP supplementary food basket to vulnerable older people, and to ensure that other agencies include ageing issues in their response.  

Tackling social isolation and generating income


  • Social activity centres: 8 centres were established in 4 IDP camps with a total of 360 direct beneficiaries and 216 indirect beneficiaries. They are based on the idea of a space for older people to gather together, share news and stories, and rebuild a sense of community. Older men and women were provided with local materials to carry out traditional hand-crafts such as woven pot covers and baskets, local rope, and shoes which were then sold and provided a small income. 
  • Shoe-making cooperative: Taking a lead from the traditional system of older men as shoe-makers in the village, the project allowed HelpAge to support a cooperative of 15 older men who learned the traditional trade and started producing shoes for sale in El Geneina Town. 
  • Bakery: HelpAge supported a cooperative producing bread in Sisi camp. Sisi is located on the main road between El Geneina and Nyala (South Darfur, and gateway to the capital Khartoum), making it a popular rest stage for truck drivers and traders. From each daily production, 20 pieces of bread are distributed free of charge to selected extremely vulnerable older people at risk of under-nourishment. The income gained from bread that is sold goes into the maintenance of the oven and purchase of local materials. 
  • Livestock regeneration: HelpAge International provided 350 households headed by older people, particularly those caring for dependants, with sheep, goats or chicken to be raised and bred. Older people were also trained in improved livestock care techniques. 
  • Seeds and tools: HelpAge International provided seed and tool kits to 2,500 beneficiaries as the majority of older people still maintain a garden on the perimeter of their camps.  

The future


Plans include further expansion of the programme to new areas, small-scale livelihood and income-generating activities, and the implementation of a health and nutrition programme, with the following elements:


  • support to El Geneina hospital on geriatric training and the supply of appropriate drugs 
  • eye camps to treat problems such as cataracts 
  • health and hygiene awareness-raising work 
  • supplementary feeding programmes.