On Tuesday, January 12th, a massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti. As of January 25th, the U.S. Geological Survey has located 53 aftershocks of magnitude 4.5 or greater. The U.S. government has mobilized resources and people to aid in the relief effort, coordinating with the United Nations and the international community. In the mist of all this funding and support, what is being done for the older Haitians?

Haiti’s first census in 24 years, conducted in 2003, revealed a number of pressing problems. When we reflect on this information after the natural disaster it provides evidence that the needs of the Haitian elderly are great. Approximately 800,000 people in Haiti are over the age of 60. The maternal mortality ratio and the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate are the highest in the Western Hemisphere, with 523 deaths per 100,000 live births, and a rate of between 4 and 5 percent respectively. This indicates a large number of grandparents are raising their grandchildren, leaving them with the added responsibility of caring for their needs as well as their own in this time of crisis. As the sole caretakers, the relief becomes even more important, as the lives of children are also at stake.

The census also showed that over 50% of the population is below the poverty headcount ratio at $1 a day, and 78% of the population is below the $2 a day ratio. This ranked Haiti the twelfth poorest nation in the world prior to the earthquake. The quake struck in the most populated area of the country and the International Red Cross announced that as many as 3 million people had been affected.

We often do not think about what it means to be old when a crisis like this hits. Imagine when life is normally hard on an average day and you are an elderly person, what the addition of devastation such as this would do. In a tragedy this massive, the needs of older people too often go unmet. On January 17th the Associate Press reported that there is no food, water or medicine for the 85 surviving residents of the Port-au-Prince Municipal Nursing Home, barely a mile from the airport where a massive international aid effort is taking shape. The residents initially believed their relatives would come to feed them, because many live in the slums nearby. “But I don’t even know if my children are alive,” Jacqueline Thermiti, 71, told reporters. The group has expressed anger at the seeming lack of outside interest in the residents of the nursing home, which is close to the areas around the collapsed presidential palace and Roman Catholic cathedral, which teem with journalists and international rescue teams. Unfortunately for these and countless other elderly victims, reaching emergency-aid stations or standing in line for hours for medical care is impossible.

In response to the vast needs of the older victims AARP, HelpAge USA, and HelpAge International have worked closely together rushing emergency relief to the Haitian elderly population. HelpAge is the only international relief agency that focuses on the unique needs of older people in an emergency. One hundred percent of donations to the AARP Foundation Haiti Relief Fund will go directly to those most in need and AARP will match donations up to $500,000. To learn more visit http://www.helpageusa.org or http://www.aarp.org/foundation

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