Indicator 17: Humanitarian and disaster relief programmes

Indicator 17: Inclusion of specific needs of older persons in all phases (preparedness, relief, and reconstruction) of humanitarian and disaster relief programmes.
Indicator is fully reported?

Yes. Planning for health, disability, and welfare support services in an emergency includes a focus on identifying vulnerable groups in a community, which includes vulnerable older people.[1]

Type of indicator Instrumental indicator Instrumental indicator
Our findings

Older people and natural disasters

Older people are frequently disproportionately affected by natural disasters. This is why humanitarian groups consider older people to be a vulnerable group in need of special protection. Mobility issues, greater physical frailty, and medication needs can compound the risks caused by natural disasters.

Overall approach to emergency management in New Zealand

Emergency management is based on an all-hazards-all-risks approach, because the phases of response to different sorts of emergency can be similar (such as warning, evacuation, medical services, and community recovery). Agencies are expected to work together during all phases of emergency management to achieve an integrated community focus. Many of the resulting plans are published on websites.[2] Information for the public is available in various places, such as local authorities’ websites.[3]

Planning for welfare services

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) chairs the National Welfare Co-ordination Group, which is a national-level cluster of social and other agencies responsible for the strategic planning and co-ordination of welfare support services.

The group is responsible for ensuring that national plans are in place to support the co-ordination and effective delivery of welfare services, including services to vulnerable people (including older people). At the next level, there is a system of regional civil defence emergency management groups and welfare co-ordination groups. They are responsible for having plans, which must also care for vulnerable older people.

Provision of health and disability services

There are two groups of vulnerable older people who need special attention during and after disasters. They are:

  • those people who were receiving health and disability services before the disaster and need to keep receiving them; and
  • those older people who may need services because of a disaster.

Older people, particularly infirm older people (including those within aged residential care facilities) are identified within planning documents and guidelines as communities that need special consideration:[4]

  • The Ministry of Health has published guiding principles with action points for health and disability services providers to help them address older people's needs.[5]
  • District health boards (DHBs) have overall accountability for emergency preparedness of health and disability services in their area.
  • All providers of health and disability services are required to manage significant risks to the continuity of their services.

Examples of actions focused on older people in Canterbury

Immediately after the earthquake on 22 February 2011, Canterbury DHB was provided with the names and addresses of older people who were receiving support for activities of daily living (home-based support) and did not have people living with them. This enabled DHB staff to check on those most likely to need assistance first. The information was obtained from the electronically stored records of the Comprehensive Clinical Assessments completed for all older people who require assistance at home.[6]

By day two after the February earthquake in Christchurch, MSD’s contact centres had begun phoning 23,200 elderly and vulnerable people in Canterbury.[7] They successfully contacted 96% of this group. A local specialist team made follow-up calls and visits to the remaining 4% to ensure that they were safe.[8] The Vulnerable Persons Team continues to track the whereabouts of older people who were evacuated to other towns and cities.

In May 2011, MSD published a strategic planning framework to support individual recovery and community well-being, and to build community resilience after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. Children, youth, and older people get specific attention in the framework.[9]

The 22 February earthquake resulted in an unprecedented evacuation of frail older people from damaged or destroyed residential care facilities. About 10% of residential care residents were relocated – about 300 were relocated out of the city and 200 were relocated within the city.[10]

Research to evaluate the effect of these mass evacuations was completed and reported to Canterbury DHB in April 2012. Older people found the experience stressful but most were resilient and coped well.[11] The report identified factors that helped older people cope and suggested areas for improvement and further research.

The Earthquake Commission takes age into account when identifying those most in need of home repairs.[12]

International publication of interest

In 2008, the World Health Organisation published Older persons in emergencies: An active ageing perspective.[13] Using a case study approach, it examines how older people fared in conflict-related and natural distaster emergencies in developed and developing countries. The report considers the needs that older people might have and contributions that they might make during and after emergencies.

How entities use the data To prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters.
Entity responsible for this indicator Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (lead agency)

[1] These services can include psychosocial support, accommodation, an 0800 government helpline, and registration and inquiry services.

[2] For some examples of plans (national and regional), see the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management’s website,; the Ministry of Health’s website,; and district health boards’ websites (one example is at

[3] For example, and

[4] Ministry of Health (2008), National Health Emergency Plan (2008), page 10,


[6] These assessments are also mentioned in our report for Madrid indicator 44.

[7] On the first day, MSD established that all children in the care of Child, Youth, and Family were safe and their caregivers had the support they needed.



[10] Heppenstall, Dr Claire, et al (2012), The Impact of the Mass Evacuation of Older People from Residential Care Facilities Following the 22 February 2011 Christchurch Earthquake, page 1,

[11] Page 11 of Heppenstall’s report.

[12] See


page top