In her introduction to Disability Inclusion in Climate Change: Impacts and Intersections, Marsha Saxton begins, “Mention “climate change and disability” and most people are immediately puzzled— it’s an issue that has often never occurred to them…” This is an article about the right to be rescued. Saxton argues that while people are now aware of this group, they are somewhat at a loss about what to do. Disaster guidelines and related literature talks of “people with access and functional needs” and “individuals requiring additional assistance”, but this terminology has not entered the climate change literature. This is quite a long article, but comprehensive, including responsibilities under the UN Conventions for Climate Change and for Persons with Disability. The article concludes, “Responses will require large-scale initiatives, focused actions and strong collaborations between stakeholders across the climate and disability spectrum. It is fortunate that those currently addressing climate change and disability, respectively, are well-engaged with a social justice framework. Both groups must understand the scope and complexities between climate change and disability. The key is thus to educate and activate these stakeholders to develop strategies to safeguard people with disabilities as climate change unfolds.”
The ageing of the population is often talked about in catastrophic terms, but when it comes to actual catastrophes, the needs of older people are not always considered. And it is not just physical needs – fears and anxieties can make older people resistant to rescue. Australia is not immune from major disasters. We have experienced several extreme weather events this summer as well as bush fires. Fortunately we have good disaster systems ready to cope – but there is always room for improvement. A recent study shows that even in developed countries, such as Japan, older people are more likely to die in a disaster than younger people. In the tsunami of 2011, 56 per cent of those who died were 65 and over, despite this group comprising 23 per cent of the population. HelpAge International’s findings on older people and disasters are reported in Disaster Resilience in an Ageing World. Anyone involved in disaster relief or emergency service might want to check their policies and response systems for the inclusion of older people and their needs in disasters and emergency situations. There is a related article in the International Journal of Emergency Management – Recognising and promoting the unique capacities of the elderly. It also discusses how older people are at greater risk in major disasters.