Disability-Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Situations
Background: A need to include persons with disabilities
Different populations may face similar risks of exposure to the negative effects of environmental and man-made disasters, but their actual vulnerability is dependent on their socio-economic conditions, civic and social empowerment, and access to mitigation and relief resources. Individuals with disabilities are disproportionately affected in disaster, emergency, and conflict situations due to inaccessible evacuation, response (including shelters, camps, and food distribution), and recovery efforts.
Common experience reveals that persons with disabilities are more likely to be left behind or abandoned during evacuation in disasters and conflicts due to a lack of preparation and planning, as well as inaccessible facilities and services and transportation systems. Most shelters and refugee camps are not accessible and people with disabilities are many times even turned away from shelters and refugees camps due to a perception that they need “complex medical” services. Disruption to physical, social, economic, and environmental networks and support systems affect persons with disabilities much more than the general population. There is also a potential for discrimination on the basis of disability when resources are scarce. Furthermore, the needs of persons with disabilities continue to be excluded over the more long-term recovery and reconstruction efforts, thus missing another opportunity to ensure that cities are accessible and inclusively resilient to future disasters.
The Haiti earthquake in January 2010 and other recent emergency situations have drawn particular attention to the plight of persons with disabilities in emergency situations. In Haiti, approximately 200,000 people are expected to live with long-term disabilities as a result of injuries. Mainstreaming disability into emergency responses and preparedness, by making disability issues and persons with disabilities visible in national and international actions plans and policies, is essential to ensure equality and human rights for all.
A legal framework to support the inclusion of persons with disabilities
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted in December 2006. The Convention marks a "paradigm shift" in attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. It takes to a new height the movement from viewing persons with disabilities as "objects" of charity, medical treatment, and social protection towards viewing persons with disabilities as "subjects" with rights,” who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society.
The Convention is intended as a human rights instrument with an explicit, social development dimension. It adopts a broad categorization of persons with disabilities and reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. It clarifies and qualifies how all categories of rights apply to persons with disabilities and identifies areas where adaptations have to be made for persons with disabilities to effectively exercise their rights and areas where their rights have been violated, and where protection of rights must be reinforced.
Article 11 on Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies, pays particular attention to the obligation of States parties to undertake “all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.” Further more, Article 4.1, states that “States Parties undertake to ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability” and Article 32, recognizes the importance of international cooperation to address the limited capacities of some States to respond to situations of risk and humanitarian crises.
The Millennium Development Goals have the potential to make life better for billions of people in the world’s poorest countries. However, disability is currently not included in indicators and targets to help evaluate and monitor the achievement of the MDGs. Furthermore, persons with disabilities are often excluded from international and national poverty reduction strategies. Environmental dangers and natural disasters can lead to the onset of many types of disabilities, and inaccessible environments prevent persons with disabilities from taking part in economic and social activities. Human and environmental recovery is vital for the achievement of MDG Goal 7, "Ensure Environmental Sustainability". The MDGs cannot be achieved without the inclusion of all persons in society, including persons with disabilities.
Responding to the needs of persons with disabilities
Several studies show us that including the needs and voices of persons with disabilities at all stages of the disaster management process, and especially during planning and preparedness, can significantly reduce their vulnerability and increase the effectiveness of Government response and recovery efforts. However, despite an increasing worldwide focus on disaster risk reduction as opposed to mere disaster response, most city and related Government agencies fail to adequately plan for - or include - persons with disabilities in their disaster management activities. This causes severe inequities in access to immediate response, as well as long-term recovery resources for people who have disabilities prior to the disaster and those who acquire a disability as a result of the disaster.
Rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts must not only be inclusive and responsive to the needs of all people, including persons with disabilities, but should include the participation of persons with disabilities, to ensure that their needs and rights are respected. Women with disabilities are a particularly vulnerable group whose needs should be included at all stages of recovery and reconstruction efforts.