Persons with Disabilities at Risk in Conflict, Disaster

Americas, Disaster, May 23 2016

NEW YORK: Persons with disabilities face added risks of abandonment, neglect, and do not enjoy equal access to food, health care, and other assistance during conflict, displacement, and reconstruction, CBM, Handicap International, International Disability Alliance, Women’s Refugee Commission, and Human Rights Watch said today, ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit on May 23 and 24, 2016, in Istanbul.

An evacuation drill being conducted in Dong Phuoc village, Vietnam. Photo: Guilhem Alandry/doculab/Malteser International/UNISDR

An evacuation drill being conducted in Dong Phuoc village, Vietnam. Photo: Guilhem Alandry/doculab/Malteser International/UNISDR

Governments, donors, and aid agencies are overwhelmed with many competing priorities during conflict and natural disaster. But they need to ensure that the rights and concerns of persons with disabilities are addressed in aid efforts, one aspect of which is to endorse the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, which includes guidelines for inclusive humanitarian response. The charter was created by nongovernmental organizations, United Nations agencies, and states through an open, transparent process.

“Leaders gathered at the World Humanitarian Summit need to translate commitments on paper into action on the ground, to make sure that one of the most marginalized populations – people with disabilities – get the aid they need and have an equal right to,” said Vladimir Cuk, executive director at the International Disability Alliance. “These commitments are about ensuring that people with disabilities won’t be discriminated against and will be part of planning an inclusive response to crisis situations.”

While many people affected by a crisis need assistance, those with disabilities are especially at risk, the group said. Physical, communication, and other barriers complicate the challenges created by war, natural disasters, and other situations that put people at risk. People with disabilities often have difficulty getting aid because facilities are not accessible and information is not provided in easy-to-understand formats.

More than 1 billion people worldwide, or about 15 percent of the global population, have disabilities, and an estimated 6.7 million people with disabilities are forcibly displaced as a result of persecution and other human rights violations, conflict, and generalized violence. The Women’s Refugee Commission reports that women and girls with disabilities face added risk of sexual violence, but are often excluded from women’s protection and empowerment programs in humanitarian contexts. Children with disabilities are also at risk of abandonment and violence during emergency situations, and yet their particular needs are often not taken into account in aid efforts.

The charter addresses these concerns in five key areas: ensuring that there is no discrimination; providing equal access to humanitarian services; involving people with disabilities and organizations that represent them in the response; developing global guidelines to improve strategies, data collection, and monitoring of inclusion; and encouraging closer collaboration among humanitarian actors and local partners.

More than 160 countries have ratified the UN disability rights treaty. In addition to rights to accessibility, health care, and education, the treaty includes a specific provision that calls on governments to ensure the safety and protection of people with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies.

“With so many conflicts and disasters competing for the headlines, the challenges facing millions of persons with disabilities continue to be invisible,” Cuk said.” Governments, UN agencies, and organizations working in humanitarian emergencies should make certain that people with disabilities are no longer left behind.”

Source: HRW

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