A global food, fuel, and finance crisis—fueled by a combination of factors including COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and climate change, alongside pre-existing issues such as inequality and the continued impact of humanitarian crises—is resulting in millions of people being driven into poverty and hunger. For older people in lower and middle-income countries, this has resulted in a loss of livelihoods, dignity, and well-being.
HelpAge International investigated the impact of this crisis on older populations through in-depth research across 10 countries: Argentina, Colombia, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Malawi, Mozambique, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Yemen.
The findings of this research have been released in a global report,‘Things have just gotten worse – The impact of the global food, fuel and finance crisis on older people.’
“Across the world, we’re hearing shocking stories of older people going hungry, selling their assets, or even begging in the street to survive; this is a crisis within multiple crises,” said Babken Babajanian, co-author of the report and HelpAge International’s Head of Income Security.
“Rising food and fuel costs together with ever-worsening financial conditions are affecting millions of people worldwide. But for older people on already low or no income, the situation is bleak.
“Older people find it especially difficult to cope with rising costs as they don’t have alternative sources of income to afford food, healthcare, and other essentials. Crucially, unlike many older people in the west, most of the older people interviewed for this report do not have any access to pensions or other public social safety nets that could support them to get through the crisis.”
Older people skipping meals to survive
The report shows that high food prices are leading older people to skip meals, consume less food, and cook less due to the cost of fuel, causing their health and nutritional status to decline.
In Malawi, where monthly food inflation reached 34% in October 2022 and bread prices doubled in the same year, 97% of older people reported they had reduced the number of meals they ate each day; 82% reported skipping food for an entire day.
In Lebanon, where food inflation went up by 322% between March and June 2022, Yasmine, an 84-year-old widow from Ain El Remmaneh, said:
“My life is closer to a nightmare … We changed our diet, our lifestyle, gave up visiting our friends due to the high cost of fuel, gave up a lot of food, and tried to find alternative heating or cooling methods.”
Many older people prioritize feeding their grandchildren over themselves. An older person from Sheikh Othman in Yemen said: “We buy bread and cheese and feed the children while we do not eat.”
Older women affected worse than older men
The crisis is affecting both older men and women, but many women work in unpaid domestic and caregiving roles—leaving them with no form of social protection and making them less likely to receive pensions.
In Ethiopia, only 7.3% of older people receive a pension, and only 10% of these recipients are female.
Conflict and climate change contributing to the crisis
In Colombia, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Yemen, the research highlighted how conflict also weakens older people’s ability to manage this crisis.
Almost all countries featured in the research reported that the impact of climate change was exacerbating the crisis, including severe drought in Ethiopia and multiple cyclones in the Philippines.
Urgent action needed to protect older people
HelpAge is calling upon governments and intergovernmental agencies to:
- Provide urgent humanitarian support to older people, which includes access to food, energy, healthcare, medicines, and livelihood opportunities
- Strengthen social protection systems and extend pensions
- Ensure that older people are explicitly included in humanitarian response programs
About HelpAge USA
HelpAge USA advances the rights, well-being, and inclusion of older people around the world. As part of the HelpAge Global Network, HelpAge USA works to ensure that the contributions of all older people are recognized, and they have the right to a healthy, safe, and secure life. Visit us at helpageusa.org.