WIP: Health, Rights and Protection of the Aged: The Case of Older People in Natural Disasters

Chan-WIP2016On Wednesday, February 10, Professor Emily Y. Y. Chan spoke as part of Harvard FXB Center’s Work-In-Progress series. Chan outlined her intent to expand her ongoing research on the elderly in Asia. Specifically, she focused on the need for further research into the needs and vulnerabilities of the elderly post disasters. Speaking from her field experience, Chan stressed the importance of dignity and protection for this population.

While much research has focused on child and adolescent health post-disaster, little is known about how the elderly population fares. Historically in disaster research, those over the age of 60 have been grouped in with “adults,” which suggests an assumption that risks and outcomes remain the same over the life course. However, observations suggests that the aging population has inherent vulnerabilities, such as decreased mobility and in some cases decreased cognitive functioning.

Further susceptibility comes from the environment in which the elderly reside. In a city like Hong Kong, for example, many elderly live in high rises and are not easily accessible to emergency responders. These vulnerabilities may, for instance, hinder the elderly from evacuating their homes or receiving aid in the event of a disaster. Chan emphasized the importance of disaster contingency plans specifically for the elderly, including a mapping of where they live.

Chan is visiting FXB Fellow from Hong Kong, where she is the director of the Collaborating Centre of Oxford University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CCOUC). Harvard FXB Center and CCOUC are collaborating on the Disaster Resilience and Response Program

– Kaylie Patrick