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Gender and Social Inclusion

It’s time to include persons with disabilities when preparing for disasters

Every year, between 12 million and 50 million people are uprooted by natural disasters, most of them in developing countries. These crises tend to have a disproportionate effect on the poorest and most vulner­able, particularly women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

October 13 has been designated International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR), a day to celebrate how people and communities are reducing their risk to disasters and raising awareness about the importance of disaster risk reduction (DRR).

DRR is about understanding the risks from disasters such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornados and landslides, and finding ways to reduce these risks so that their impact is reduced and affected people are able to recover quickly.

The theme for IDDR 2013 is persons with disabilities.

Persons living with disabilities make up about 15 percent of the world’s population. They are among the most excluded in society, and their plight is magnified when a disaster strikes. Not only are they less likely to receive the aid they need during a crisis, they are also less likely to recover in the long term. More often than not, their unique and vital contribution to helping communities prepare for and respond to disasters is overlooked.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(CRPD) requires that persons with disabilities benefit from and participate in disaster relief, emergency response and disaster risk reduction strategies:

“States Parties shall take, in accordance with their obligations under international law…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.”

When disaster strikes, persons with physical disabilities can be at risk when evacuating if assistance is not available. Those with intellectual impairmentsmay struggle with understanding instructions that must be followed in the event a disaster occurs.And individuals who areblind orhearing impaired may have difficulty communicating during the emergency. They are at greater risk of death, injury and isolation, and may also find it difficult to access humanitarian assistance and information about relief services. For example, following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011, the fatality rate for people with disabilities was twice that of non-disabled people.

Risks persist because disability-related training is rarely provided to emergency planners anddisaster reliefpersonnel. In addition, communities and governments often lack information about the needs and capacities of persons with disabilities, and therefore frequently exclude them from disaster plans and emergency preparedness protocols.

The Women's Refugee Commission believes that persons with disabilities must have the opportunity to effectively contribute to community-based DRR initiatives by identifying solutions based on their needs and experience, which in turn increases the overall resilience of the community. We are pleased that a group of UN agencies and their partners this week released a Guidance note on disability and emergency risk management for health, which points out the health-related actions that are required to ensure that both mainstream and specific supports are available and accessible to people with disabilities before, during and after emergencies. The guidance note outlines the minimum steps health and other actors should take to ensure that specific support is available for people with disabilities and to ensure that disability is included in the development and implementation of health actions in all emergency contexts.

Gender and Social Inclusion