Life in the Pacific presents challenges, such as inaccessible boat transportation, for persons with disabilities. Photograph: Andy Isaacson

Raising the Voice of People with Disabilities in Disasters

With thanks to the Disability Rights Fund for contributing this article

Floods in Myanmar, cyclones in the Pacific, landslides in East Africa and more recently the devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean — each of these has a profound impact on people with disabilities who are too often left behind or not considered in shelter development and relief distribution.

“…[in] the Bay of Bengal, where the risk of floods and river erosion is high due to climate change… Persons with disabilities are especially vulnerable because they are often the poorest of the poor and are illiterate. They are hit hardest because of their badly constructed housing, the disruption to their family’s livelihoods, unfriendly transportation and communication systems, and lack of accessible cyclone shelters.” — Utpal Barua, CDA Project Manager

In 2015, in Sendai Japan, at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, key international disability groups worked to ensure greater recognition of the issues that people with disabilities face in disasters. As a result, disability was, for the first time, included in a global disaster framework: the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030.

The Disability Rights Fund works in many countries at the front line of climate change, where responses to natural disasters have often excluded people with disabilities. Recognizing this, DRF is supporting a growing number of projects headed by Disabled Peoples’ Organisations (DPOs) to ensure that people with disabilities are central to the development of national and local disaster risk reduction (DRR) plans.

In the Cook Islands, the National Disability Council is partnering with Emergency Management Cook Islands (EIMC) and the Office of the Prime Minister to develop a disability-inclusive disaster management policy, plan, and toolkit in local language.
In Indonesia, DPO, FKM in Aceh is developing an accessibility audit team (made up of persons with disabilities and building experts) to conduct audits of key public buildings, as a basis for advocacy to local authorities.
In Bangladesh, Coastal DPO Alliance (CDA) educates persons with disabilities living in areas particularly prone to flooding, through community drama on their rights in disasters, and mobilizes them to advocate to local authorities for inclusion in disaster management.
Beyond Disaster Risk Reduction, the impacts of climate change on people with disabilities are only now beginning to be considered. DRF has begun partnering with the United Nations Development Programme Global Environment Fund (GEF) Small Grants Program to make it more inclusive of a disability perspective. This has included training Small Grants representatives on how to be disability inclusive in their work and working jointly on a guidance note about disability inclusive programming. While at an early stage, this work represents a pathway forward to addressing disability inclusion more broadly in climate change work.

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