Older people, conflict and emergencies

Older people, conflict and emergencies

By Jeanne Bank, Adriana Ciacaru


When an emergency occurs, older people are often disproportionately affected. As we have seen in the conflict in Ukraine, older people can be forced to flee their homes in search of safety.

When  families and communities disintegrate, older persons may be left isolated, destitute and without support systems. Although the receiving countries are ready to welcome, integrate and offer the support the older persons need, the main challenge remains their possibility to overcome the barriers created by the conflict circumstances. For the older people left behind, the situation is particularly dangerous. 

Similarly, when natural disasters such as floods, wildfires, hurricanes or other emergencies strike a community, older persons may face many difficulties. In spite of these obstacles, older persons often take care of children and others who are sick or dependent, and often take on recovery work to help restore the community.

Some of the risks that older people face in crisis situations can include:

  • difficulties escaping – often due to mobility problems, or living alone;
  • increased isolation, resulting in mental health issues;
  • severe income shortages due to lack of support systems;
  • less able to adapt to a new environment and may face obstacles to secure relief, social services and employment;
  • difficulty accessing healthcare, especially for chronic conditions, such as dementia, diabetes or coronary heart disease;
  • lack of support and adequate living conditions for those with disabilities;
  • unable to flee, they may become targets of violence and reprisals, and
  • once recovery starts, the needs and potential contributions of older persons may be ignored. 

Older workers impacted by emergencies may face difficulties to integrate on the labour market, especially if they have been forced to relocate. Some of the challenges may include:

  • language barriers – one of the most common issues for migrant workers, which may lead to precarious job opportunities;
  • studies & competencies recognition – depending on the receiving country, older workers may not access jobs matching their qualifications;
  • cultural differences;
  • different labour code provisions and lack of legal support;
  • undeclared work – as a result of the language barriers, migrant people are more exposed to exploitation and access to informal jobs, and
  • age discrimination – older workers may be disadvantaged when competing with a young person for a job.


Can standards and guidelines help?

In 2018, ISO published ISO 22395 -Security and resilience — Community resilience — Guidelines for supporting vulnerable persons in an emergency. This document gives guidelines for organizations to identify, involve, communicate with and support individuals who are the most vulnerable to natural and human-induced (both intentional and unintentional) emergencies. It also includes guidelines for continually improving the provision of support to vulnerable persons in an emergency. This standard is currently available for free in read-only format. For more information: https://www.iso.org/standard/50291.html.

To address the issue of older workers, ISO/TC 314 has recently published ISO 25550:2022 - Ageing societies — General requirements and guidelines for an age-inclusive workforce to help organizations and other stakeholders to develop, implement, maintain and support an age-inclusive workforce.


If you have ideas and suggestions about how ISO/TC 314 – Standards for Ageing Societies can help to address the issues facing older adults in emergencies, please feel free to contact: Nele Zgavc, Committee Manager at: Nele.Zgavc@bsigroup.com.


Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash.