Re: Addressing food insecurity in protracted crises: Resilience-building programming

Jessica Hartog HelpAge International, United Kingdom
12.07.2013

Many interesting insights have already been provided in this discussion. I would like to pick up on the last discussion point on demographic changes and its impact on building resilience. It is rightly noted that demographic change is probably one of the most predictable factors that has to be taken into consideration when building resilience. In humanitarian and development programming and especially in protracted crisis contexts a lot of emphasis is put on youth bulges and vulnerable groups like women at reproductive age and children. While this is valid, we should not lose sight of world-wide population ageing and its implication for resilience building. The demographic changes that are taking place will create a significant vulnerability nexus for the ageing population in a context of climate change, increasing land pressure, migration and many other challenging factors.

Ageing is not only happening in high-income countries. Quite on the contrary, aging is happening fastest in developing countries. Already today, there are more people over 60 than children under 5. By 2030 people aged over 60 will outnumber children under the age of 10. Therefore, population ageing is a trend we cannot ignore.

An ageing population has far reaching implications for building resilience. Older people are already facing challenges to maintain their livelihoods in ‘normal’ circumstances because of health issues, reduced mobility and strength, impaired sight or hearing but also because of exclusion from innovative livelihood support and financial services.  When on top of this they are facing stresses and repeated shocks, older people are at high risk to be plunged into poverty with no prospects to recover let alone to ‘bounce back better’. Given the large number of elderly headed households with large numbers of dependants in contexts where there is a high level of HIV & Aids and/or rural-urban migration of adolescents and young adults, building the resilience of older people will have strong intergenerational effects as well.

Therefore, it is encouraging to see that the introductory note by Malcolm Ridout mentions social protection as a crucial element for building resilience. Social protection floors would ensure that people with limited labour capacity and/or access to income opportunities would always be able to meet their basic food and other essential needs and this would also provide the minimum basis for being able to recover from and adapt to change brought about by shocks and stresses.

At the same time, it should be recognised that older people can and do engage in livelihood activities and should therefore not be left out of livelihood programming – which is unfortunately the rule rather than the exception. We need to increase our understanding and evidence on the actual and potential role of older people in sustainable livelihoods to build resilience. Meanwhile livelihood programmes should increasingly include older people with labour saving considerations in mind while designing the activities. With this we have a pretty straightforward but important element in building the resilience of a group that tends to be overlooked.