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Aging Population Forces Disaster Planners to Adapt Strategies

The world is aging fast. In part, that is the result of improved conditions around the globe — better health care, nutrition, and technology have allowed people to live longer lives. But with the 60 or older population expected to nearly triple to 3 billion by 2100, according to the United Nations, the United States ...

Chris McGrath/Getty Images/ HelpAge International via Global AgeWatch
Chris McGrath/Getty Images/ HelpAge International via Global AgeWatch

The world is aging fast. In part, that is the result of improved conditions around the globe — better health care, nutrition, and technology have allowed people to live longer lives. But with the 60 or older population expected to nearly triple to 3 billion by 2100, according to the United Nations, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is taking new measures to protect the world’s elderly. On Tuesday, to coincide with the “International Day for Disaster Reduction,” the development agency said it will adapt its disaster planning to better accommodate senior citizens.

The 60 and older demographic is already the world’s fastest growing and could swell to 28 percent of the projected 10.9 billion people worldwide by the end of the century, according to the U.N. This makes them particularly susceptible to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, droughts, and storms. In 2013, natural disasters claimed more than 22,000 victims, affected the lives of nearly 97 million others, and caused almost $118 billion in economic damages, according to USAID.

Because the global population is rapidly aging and settling more frequently in natural disaster-prone areas, future disasters will likely be even more devastating. USAID’s focus on disaster-risk reduction aims to stave off those effects by taking new measures to identify the elderly in advance in at-risk areas and prepare evacuation routes. Moreover, the development agency hopes to tap into the expertise of the world’s aging population to help reduce the risk from natural disasters.

“We recognize that having this large and growing population of experienced, knowledgeable leaders and volunteers represents an enormous opportunity for communities,” USAID stated on Tuesday, “especially in terms of improving safety through disaster preparedness.”

The world’s aging population remains a major social and economic factor as the globe’s total population continues to climb. Despite a youth bulge in many parts of the world, the overall trend points to longer lives and older populations. Already the 60 and older segment is larger than that of children 5 and younger. By 2030, that segment will outnumber the 10 and under demographic, according to HelpAge International, a global development NGO.

The extent of the world’s aging population can be seen below, as a majority of the population 60 and older becomes the norm in both the developed and developing parts of the world by 2050.  

 

Reid Standish is a journalist based in Helsinki, Finland. He was formerly an associate editor at Foreign Policy. @reidstan

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