We live in a precarious world. Disasters caused by floods, cyclones and earthquakes have become an increasingly common occurrence. Being involved in a disaster is terrifying. Think about how much more terrifying it can be if you have a disability. If you can't see your way out because you are unable to see. If you don't hear the warnings because you are unable to hear. If you have a physical disability that hinders your escape.
On 13 October the world comes together to mark the International Day for Disaster Relief. The theme this year is 'living with disability and disasters'. According to the World Health Organisation, over 1 billion people worldwide have a disability - approximately 15% of the world's population. Huge disasters such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake; the 2011 drought in East Africa; the 2012 Pakistan floods; and Hurricane Sandy this year, to name just a few, all put people with disabilities in positions of heightened vulnerability. Without a shadow of a doubt I believe that people with disabilities are disproportionately affected by disasters.
Despite this, people with disabilities are frequently overlooked in the disaster management cycle. There are so many things that need to be considered. Information about preparing for disasters needs to be available in accessible formats. Disability data should to be available for the relevant officials to make sure that rescue workers can anticipate any additional assistance they might need to provide. Humanitarian workers need to have a good understanding of disability issues and an awareness of the support people with disabilities may need. People with disabilities should be oriented within their new environment to ensure that they can gain independence as quickly as possible.
I am Leonard Cheshire Disability's Young Voices campaigner, a global network of young people with disabilities speaking out on disability issues. We believe that people with disabilities need to be part of the solution. Our voices must be listened to if we want to achieve a disaster resilient planet. This means including people with disabilities in every aspect of development, including disaster risk reduction. As Paul Mugambi, possibly the first visually impaired humanitarian worker on the African continent, says: "Disaster reduction for the strong by the strong can never be disaster reduction for the people by the people".
There is a desperate need for research into how humanitarian crises affect people with disabilities. The research needs to take into account that people with disabilities can possess multiple identities: some are women, some are children, some are indigenous and so on. A crisis can affect them in different ways. To start addressing this, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and partners have launched the first-ever survey of people living with disabilities on their managing capacity in the face of a disaster event. You can take part in the survey here: http://www.unisdr.org/2013/iddr/#survey.
The results from this survey will feed into the development of a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction, coordinated by the UNISDR. I am hopeful that disability will be a priority in the new framework. But we cannot wait until 2015 while yet another disabled girl is being abused in a refugee camp or a woman with a disability is missing relief food because it is a "scramble for the fittest". We need to start acting now.
Show your support on 13 October and tweet:
Disability is NOT inability! I'm supporting this year's International Day for Disaster Reduction #iddr #thisability