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Humanitarian Issues: Why Age and Sex Matter

21 Oct 2011


A new study explains why humanitarians need to do much more much earlier to understand the differing needs of men, women, young and old, during a crisis.

Aid agencies must far more urgently establish the differing needs of men and women, young and old people, in order to save lives and rebuild communities during a crisis, a new report by leading humanitarian experts has warned.

"Sex and Age Matter", published by the Feinstein International Center and sponsored by OCHA and CARE, found that despite widespread agreement on the importance of ‘Sex and Age Disaggregated Data’ (SADD), humanitarian organizations were failing to put long-standing lessons into practice.

In a series of 20 recommendations, the study argued that aid groups needed to prepare for crises more effectively by building systems which take account of age and sex, and to examine that data during the earliest moments of a disaster – as opposed to in later stages, or not at all, as is currently often the case.

Sex, Age and Death in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

The study drew on clear lessons from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, as well as other crises. In the hardest-hit areas of Indonesia, for example, surveys revealed that four times as many women died as men.

The collection of Sex and Age Disaggregated Data (SADD) also revealed that the tsunami’s victims were disproportionately children (9 years and younger) and the elderly (60 years and older).

This data had potentially crucial implications for effective life-saving interventions. For example, the data highlighted the fact that many adult males were left looking after children, without the resources to care for them.

The "Sex and Age Matter" report asserts that humanitarian organizations which do not use this data will be left with an unclear understanding of who was affected, and how - and what that means for the future of surviving families and communities.

“There is no sufficient intellectual, logistical or financial justification for not collecting and using SADD to inform and improve humanitarian response,” said Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator. “The report is clear on what we can do. What we need to do now is to commit to doing it”.

More>> Download the study (PDF)