UN sets up human rights group to look into situation of Haiti’s disabled

An elderly wheelchair-bound woman collects a bottle of water distributed by UN peacekeepers, in Port-au-Prince

5 March 2010 – A working group comprising United Nations experts has been created to look into the situation of Haitians with disabilities, who have been disproportionately affected by January’s catastrophic earthquake.

Today’s announcement comes after a group of UN human rights experts last month appealed for the needs of the disabled in Haiti to be included in the relief, recovery and reconstruction processes following the magnitude-7.0 earthquake.

The 12 January quake killed up to 200,000 people, injured many others and left one third of the country’s nine million people in need of aid.

The decision to set up the new working group was made by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities during its recent meeting in Geneva from 22 to 26 February.

It underscored that under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “States are to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk and natural disaster like the occurrence of this earthquake.”

The new body will also look into the situation of people with disabilities in other countries affected by devastating natural disasters, including Chile, where it is estimated that 2 million people were impacted by last Saturday’s magnitude-8.8 quake.

Early last month, the Committee stressed in a news release that persons with disabilities must not become “the forgotten ones” during the emergency response and the reconstruction of Haiti.

Its current chairperson, Mohammed Al-Tarawneh, said that “while relief workers are struggling to provide aid to the people of Haiti and while the situation remains difficult for everyone, persons with disabilities are particularly affected by the crisis,” especially if their caregivers have been killed or injured.

The 12-member Committee, tasked with monitoring the Convention, urged Haiti to ensure that persons with disabilities fully participate in the decision-making process regarding social and economic reconstruction and that their long-term development needs be taken into account.

The Convention, which entered into force in May 2008 and has so far been endorsed by 144 countries, is the culmination of years of global efforts to ensure that the rights of the world’s estimated 650 million persons with disabilities are guaranteed and protected.

It asserts the rights to education, health, work, adequate living conditions, freedom of movement, freedom from exploitation and equal recognition before the law for persons with disabilities.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported today that its partners are handing out coupons for the next round of food distribution – including rice, beans and salt – for some 2 million people, set to kick off tomorrow in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The agency and its partners have already provided food for some 4.3 million people since the earthquake.

Although Haiti’s rainy season typically starts in April and peaks in May, early floods have already hit the country’s south, affecting 4,000 families and killing 7,100 heads of cattle, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

The Office warned that with the main planting season set to kick off this month, only 12 per cent of the agricultural funds appealed for have been provided. It cautioned that progress made in improving food security since the string of hurricanes in 2008 could be reversed without immediate financial support for the purchase of seeds, tools and other supplies.

The Government has reported that 1.3 million people are still living in spontaneous settlements, while over 600,000 others have fled the hard-hit capital for other regions.

OCHA said that the security situation remains stable in Haiti, and that emergency shelter, sanitation and food continue to be among the top needs.


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