Disasters magnify the plight of those with disabilities
Persons living with disabilities are often doubly vulnerable to disasters; because of their disability and because they are more likely to be poor, with limited access to education, health care, shelter, food and work, before a crisis strikes.
Although persons with disabilities represent one-fifth of the world’s population, they still have no significant representation in planning processes to reduce disaster risks, prevent disasters or build resilient societies and communities.
The lack of inclusion and participation in disaster risk reduction processes means that the unique
contribution of persons with disabilities in helping communities prepare for and respond to disasters is also often overlooked by planners.
Persons living with blindness or low vision can be more effective at search and rescue in conditions, where it is difficult to see than those with sight. Also, according to Handicap International, people living with disabilities are less likely than those without a disability to panic and become injured during an earthquake (for example), because they are used to dealing with difficult environments everyday.
Yet it seems very little is being done to change the status quo of persons living with disabilities; the uncertainties with which they live, and the heightened threats they face in disaster scenarios.
According to news reports, when an earthquake struck California in 1994, a man was turned away
from a shelter because the staff could not understand sign language.
People with cerebral palsy were ignored because shelter volunteers thought they were on drugs, according to Handicap International.
It was also reported that after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, there were many examples of persons with disabilities being unable to escape the waves and drowning.
In Sambodhi Residential Home in Galle, Sri Lanka, only 41 of its 102 residents survived; many of those who died were unable to leave their beds or failed to comprehend in time the need to escape.
No reference to disabilities currently in the the Hyogo Framework for Action
There is a global conversation about disaster risk reduction currently taking place. It takes its cue
from the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) – the global disaster risk reduction plan that was adopted in 2005 for 10 years (to 2015) to build the resilience of nations and communities to disasters. The HFA is the first plan to explain, describe and detail an all-of-society approach to reduce disaster losses and impacts. It does not, however, make a direct reference to persons living with disabilities, although it spells out the need to take account of cultural diversities, age, and other causes of vulnerability when planning for disaster risk reduction. There is also very little reference to disability in many national and local disaster management and risk reduction plans around the world.
A survey last year in Fiji of disability inclusiveness in disaster preparedness and risk reduction found, that persons living with disabilities are not considered in disaster evacuation processes.
The Pacific Disability Forum Programme Manager Katabwena Tawaka went even further to state that the summary of findings found that persons with disabilities were not part of any processes at all - before, during and after disasters.
In 2011, a federal judge ruled that the city of Los Angeles was unprepared to meet the needs of the
disabled in the case of a disaster and was discriminating against them by failing to include the disabled in its emergency preparedness plans. Siding with disability-rights groups, who sued the city on behalf of an estimated 800,000 L.A. residents living with disabilities, U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo B. Marshall found that Los Angeles did not have a plan to notify and evacuate persons with disabilities or provide them with transportation and shelter in a disaster.
The next generation HFA
The 2013 International Day for Disaster Reduction is an opportunity for persons living with disabilities to be included in and express themselves in the consultations on the post-2015 HFA framework that began in March 2012. The goal is a successor to the HFA, which is the product of the broadest possible consultations. Everyone who joins the conversation can help change the current status quo, and influence the next generation Hyogo Framework for Action, so it will take into account the needs of persons living with disabilities in potential disaster scenarios.