Our crisis response must include people with disabilities

June 15, 2021

More than one billion people in the world live with a disability, and they are often more vulnerable to the effects of disasters. However, people with disability are often left out of disaster risk management planning. These stairs in Papua New Guinea, designed for villagers to escape an approaching tsunami, could be difficult to negotiate for anyone with mobility issues.

UNDP Papua New Guinea

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development pledged to “leave no one behind,” and this includes people with disabilities.

However, today, people with disabilities, who represent 15 percent of the world’s population, are disproportionately affected by disasters, conflict, and humanitarian crises. Often already more vulnerable to poverty and exclusion, they may also be more likely to be victims when crisis hits, are often less able to evacuate or escape from harm, and may be more likely to have their livelihoods threatened or poverty exacerbated.

Yet they are still underprioritized when it comes to crises planning and response.

So how can we do better to ensure that no one is truly left behind? What solutions and partnerships already exist for disability inclusion? And what possibilities are on the horizon, especially with the increasing impact of climate change, biological and man-made hazards?

Three years ago, at the Global Disability Summit, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said, “we firmly believe that to achieve progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, disability-inclusion cannot be approached as a standalone issue, but rather needs to be promoted across all policies and programmes.”

He highlighted some of the good work that has been done, such as supporting the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, developing inclusive legal frameworks in places such as Albania and Liberia, and efforts to ensure people with disabilities in Georgia get the same life-saving emergency services as everybody else.

There are many initiative that build on these successes. With the Digital Transformation for Resilience (DX4Resilience) project, UNDP has conducted vulnerability mapping and analysis in the Philippines and Sri Lanka, engaging people with disabilities, NGOs, government and other members of the community.

In Indonesia, UNDP and Indonesia’s national disaster management agency are hosting a Hackathon to make the national digital geospatial platform, InaRISK, accessible for at-risk communities. This will help people with disabilities and other marginalized groups safely evacuate during a disaster.

UNDP is committed to helping governments and partners to be more resilient in a complex and uncertain world. However, we do so knowing well that we don’t have all the answers. Persons with disabilities and their representative organizations are critical to assessing disaster risk and in designing measures tailored to their requirements.

UNDP promotes the active involvement of those with disabilities and their representative organizations as full partners in all development initiatives.  

We are addressing the barriers to inclusion and the root causes of vulnerability and discrimination. At the same time, our disaster risk reduction and recovery programme is in line with the goals and targets of the SDGs and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which clearly recognizes that disability puts people at disproportionate risk from natural hazards. And by implementing the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, UNDP commits itself to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

UNDP has an opportunity to support the effective decision making participation of persons with disabilities in disaster risk reduction and recovery, including early warning systems, information sharing, preparedness and response plans.

If you have seen the home page of the newly-redesigned UNDP website, you may have noticed that we are in the midst of a “Great Transformation” – literally and figuratively. We are experiencing radical uncertainty and a planetary crisis, yet we are still working from an old playbook. Twenty-first century problems cannot be tackled with 20th century solutions. And while technology alone cannot solve everything, innovative and inclusive solutions, be they by and for people with disabilities facing disaster threats, or any other disproportionately affected group, are imperative. While the future may be uncertain, there is certainty that sustainable and people-centred development must be inclusive.