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The International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) is a day to recognise the efforts of communities worldwide to reduce their risk to disasters and to raise awareness about the importance of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). This year, the theme for IDDR Day “Disability and Disasters - A Not So Obvious Conversation” focuses on how persons with disabilities are uniquely impacted by disasters.

This is a very critical conversation for us in the CDEMA system as it is known that a significant proportion of the population of the countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) live with disabilities. Globally, an estimated 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability.

In September of this year, at the High Level Meeting on the Realisation of the Millennium Development Goals for Persons with Disabilities, CARICOM Ministers pledged their commitment to ensuring the rights of the disabled citizens in the region, noting also that internationally agreed development goals cannot be achieved without incorporating persons with disabilities. This must of necessity, include consideration of and the establishment of mechanisms within our states, to reduce the vulnerability of our disabled citizens to disasters.

The results of the first-ever UN global survey of persons living with disabilities on how they cope with disasters revealed that one of the major contributing factors to the disproportionate number of disabled persons losing their lives during disasters is that they are not adequately consulted during the disaster planning processes to determine their specific needs. Such persons are often forced to rely totally on the kindness of family, friends and neighbours for assisting in ensuring their survival and safety, because appropriate mechanisms to assist them have not been established in their communities. Additionally, most emergency shelters are not appropriately equipped to ensure access for the disabled.

We are also aware that where existing disaster management programmes take into account the needs of the disabled, these programmes are often focussed on the visually and hearing impaired with inadequate attention given, to the physically and mentally challenged. Greater efforts for adequately adressing the needs of these groups are required.

Our recent experience in the region with the catastrophic earthquake which occurred in Haiti leaving an estimated 200,000 with long-term disabilities as a result of injuries, has also heightened our awareness of the need for giving adequate attention to this issue in long term recovery and reconstruction efforts.

Compounding all that has been said above is the fact that persons living with disabilities are typically disproportionately affected by poverty, and are more likely to have marginal access to education, employment and healthcare support systems. This increases the level of the challenge in ensuring their full participation in emergency planning, but makes it all the more important.

As the regional Agency with the mandate for disaster management in the CARICOM region, CDEMA is committed to taking an active part in the discussions and efforts in the region related to improving the resilience of persons with disabilities.

All of the CDEMA Participating States have adopted and are pursuing a Comprehensive Disaster Management (CDM) approach to all the hazards to which their countries are prone; emphasising the involvement of all sectors of society in taking action to manage and reduce the disaster risk that they face. On this IDDR Day, I wish to re-emphasise and encourage the importance of the engagement of persons living with disabilities in efforts to ensure the safety of our communities in emergency situations. These efforts must run the full range including appropriate legislation, review of planning and consultation processes, retrofitting of infrastructure; and public awareness mechanisms.


Ronald Jackson

 

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