International Day of Older Persons: Highlighting the Sanitation Needs of Elderly People

Date: 1st October 2017

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  • October 1st is the International Day of Older Persons, a day to advance understanding of the requirements for the well-being of the elderly
  • Between 2015 and 2030, the number of older people worldwide is set to increase by 56%
  • In programme design and policy advocacy, WSSCC is committed to highlighting the sanitation needs of the older persons, leaving no one behind

The United Nations Division for Social Policy and Development Ageing reports that the number of older persons worldwide is set to increase by 56%— from 901 million to more than 1.4 billion by 2030.

WSSCC is committed to breaking stigma and prejudice that can be linked to age, gender or physical ability so that everyone everywhere can use safe sanitation and hygiene with dignity all of the time.  As people journey across the human life course they must be guaranteed basic services in their twilight years.

In preparation for the 2016 South Asia Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN VI) in Dhaka, WSSCC and the Freshwater Action Network South Asia (FANSA) provided platforms for elderly persons across eight countries to listen to their experiences, challenges and suggestions for accessible Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).

The resulting Leave No One Behind report notes that most elderly men and women in rural areas resort to open defecation, despite the fact that walking to the fields is a daily struggle with a real risk of falling and hurting themselves.

“I need a bathroom which has support I can hold on to, otherwise I will lose my balance. A one inch wall will easily collapse if I fall on it. That is why I want a bathroom to suit my needs,” said Suman, Ranchi from Jharkhand in India.

A panel discussion at SACOSAN VI, where users of marginalized groups interacted with Ministers and practitioners on the need for joint action, resulted in commitments by eight countries in the Dhaka Declaration to include the needs of people in vulnerable situations, including elderly people.

During WSSCC’s Sanitation Action Summit in Mumbai in 2016, Indian citizens who are often under-represented  – including older people – participated in a dialogue to advance the Clean India mission by 2030.  Demands  and sanitation solutions for the needs of older persons are listed in the summary report of the event, such as:

  • Separate toilets for senior citizens in urban slums
  • Toilet design that considers the specific needs of the elderly
  • Including older people in slum management committees and other decision making forums

In March 2017 the Government of India issued transformative guidelines that include specific attention to the needs of elderly women.

WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) recently released a study that assesses equality and non-discrimination in GSF programming. This reveals that a range of positive outcomes and impacts related to safety, convenience, ease- of- use, self-esteem, health, dignity, an improved environment and income generation were reported by people who may be considered disadvantaged, including the elderly.

Through the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach, communities have been made aware of the needs of older persons and are able to mobilize their efforts to help one another reach an adequate level of hygiene and sanitation.

In Madagascar, Razafindalana Raphael, also known as ‘Dadabe’ (‘Grandad’), is one of the oldest people in his village and had suffered difficulties improving his latrine.

He explained, “I can no longer dig, deal with the mud, or fetch water. Plus, I cannot afford the materials!”

Three young men from the village volunteered to fill the latrine’s slab, build a handwashing station and drop-hole cover. In only a few minutes, these Natural Leaders helped Dadabe make his own ‘model’ latrine. “And I had to pay nothing!” he exclaimed.

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