Monday, August 26, 2013

Poor and disabled when disaster strikes

Lucy Westcott in IPS: Upon first glance, the emergency checklist distributed in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake looks like any other. Organised into key categories like water, sanitation and hygiene, and psychosocial support, the information is typical of the kind circulated for emergency response.

But after a closer read, with recommendations for latrines to be built with a 90cm diameter so a wheelchair can turn around, and 80-cm-wide doors for wheelchair or crutch-users to pass through comfortably, it is clear that the checklist, distributed by Handicap International, was intended for persons with disabilities living in the disaster-ravaged country.

Natural disasters are common in many developing countries across the globe, and organisations like Handicap International are helping communities plan better for their disabled populations. There are between 2.9 and 4.2 million persons with disabilities among the world’s 42 million forcibly displaced population, according to data from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

For many people living with disabilities in developing countries, social stigma and cultural barriers prevent community cohesion, which is essential for emergency planning and preparedness, Annie Lafrenière, social inclusion and technical adviser at Handicap International, told IPS. “People won’t speak about social barriers… they’ll talk about ramps [instead],” Lafrenière said. “[People with disabilities] are not considered the same as everyone else.”

Developing countries are vulnerable and at a higher risk of disasters because they are less prepared and equipped to deal with them, and not necessarily because they are more exposed to hazards, Lafrenière says. Persons with disabilities are often invisible to relief activities and unable to reach food or water checkpoints due to destroyed roads or non-accessible transportation....

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