Photo: NorwayUN/Marte Fløan Beisvåg. .Photo: NorwayUN/Marte Fløan Beisvåg.

Disabled persons must be included in disaster planning

Last updated: 10/11/2013 // An estimated 15 percent of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. When disaster strikes, disabled persons are often much more vulnerable to suffer and die than the able-bodied. A new UN survey reveals that the needs of people with disability are ignored and neglected by official planning processes in the majority of situations. October 13 is the International Day of Disaster Reduction and this year’s focus is on the 1 billion people living with a disability.

The panel discussion “Disaster Resilience and Disability: Ensuring Equality and Inclusion” was held on October 10 aiming to take stock of progress, share good practices and options in practicing disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction. The discussion was moderated by Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, and co-chaired by Geir O. Pedersen, Ambassador of Norway to the UN, and Yusra Kahn, Ambassador and Deputive Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the UN.

In a world of ongoing population growth, urbanization, climate change and an approach to investment that discounts disaster risks, person with disabilities are often excluded from disaster risk management processes, from design to implementation. The limited data available reveals that persons with disabilities, compared to the general population, are more vulnerable and likely to be left behind during events of disasters.

Need to find practical solutions
“We need to develop good and practical solutions to how persons with disabilities can be actively involved in building resilience,” Ambassador Pedersen said in his opening remarks and added, “I would like to highlight the special situation of women and girls with disabilities, who have an even harder time than most”.

“1/5 of the world’s population lives with some sort of disability, and in a disaster we tend to forget this part. Both disasters and disability increases vulnerability, but disability is not inability,” said Ambassador Kahn, and emphasized the importance of including the disabled when planning for disasters.

The panel consisted of Keryann F. Ifill, blind and President of Senate from Barbados, Mitsuji Hisamatsu, deaf and General Secretary and Chief of the Japanese Federation of the Deaf, Stephanie Rahardja, also deaf and Member of Deaf Art Community in Indonesia, and Alex Robinson, ASB Indonesia on behalf of Disability-Inclusive DRR Network.

Special Representative Wahlström invited the panelists to put “concrete experience to the table”. They all shared stories from their lives as disabled and Hisamatsu from the Japanese Federation of the Deaf, spoke about when the earthquake and following tsunami hit Japan on March 11, 2011. “Many, many thousands had to evacuate their homes and houses and people were swept away. Some people didn’t know how to evacuate, many heard the warning but could not evacuate. This is why so many died,” He said and pointed to the fact that the number of disabled people who died was double the death toll among the able-bodied population.

Rahardja of the Indonesian Deaf Art Community told the audience about when she experienced an earthquake and said that without the help of her parents she wouldn’t have known what to do or where to go.

Reliant on family, friends and neighbors
The UN survey points to that point: because of the exclusion from planning disasters, disabled people are often left totally reliant on the kindness of family, friends and neighbors for their survival and safety. Rahardja now works with spreading information to deaf people and she is making movies, giving performances and trainings, because “deaf people have the right to know what to do in disasters to”.

The survey is a result of 5,450 people from 126 countries who have made the effort, sometimes with the help of a relative or friend, to fill in a questionnaire. “I would like to thank all of them”, said Wahlström, and continued; “the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) will ensure that their knowledge and experiences are taken fully into consideration at the 2015 World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction when UN Member States will adopt a new global framework for disaster risk reduction to replace the current Hyogo Framework for Action.”

You can read more about the survey here.

Watch photos from the discussion here.

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