Humanitarian Issues: Safeguarding people with disabilities during emergencies

23 January, 2012
Uganda: Child’s mother who was fitted with prosthesis after her leg was blown off by a landmine. Credit: IRIN/ Sven Torfinn
Uganda: Child’s mother who was fitted with prosthesis after her leg was blown off by a landmine. Credit: IRIN/ Sven Torfinn

Humanitarian aid workers must do more to care for the needs of people with disabilities during emergencies, the UN humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, has said.

In the keynote address to the fifth International Shafallah Forum in Doha, Qatar, Ms. Amos said that while “the challenges facing people with disabilities in conflict and natural disaster rarely make the headlines… we must find ways to meet everyone’s needs.”

During crises, people with disabilities often find themselves left aside as others receive help. Ms. Amos warned that in the Horn of Africa, children and women with disabilities were particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, and could be neglected as families made difficult decisions on the use of scarce food resources.

Ms. Amos said that in one area of the Philippines, after December’s flash flood only 10 per cent of people with disabilities found shelter in the evacuation centres, and those who got there were often pushed aside by the crowd.

“If that was the case of any other community, there would be outrage,” said Ms. Amos.

In both emergencies, however, she pointed to increasing recognition of the issues facing people with disabilities, and a shift in thinking among aid workers.

“Whereas organizations might once have resisted special treatment for specific groups, today they recognize the need for more tailored solutions and are seeking advice on how to provide them,” she said.

She cited the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states that “States’ Parties shall take … all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in… humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.”

“The challenge we face today is to move beyond these words and put them into practice,” said Ms. Amos.

“Across the world, the case is being made as more and more emergency responders recognize the particular needs of people with disabilities. Our challenge is to build on this recognition, and translate it into reality.”

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