Disasters and emergencies: Leave no-one behind

Road Closed signs and a barrier of a road that reaches down to swollen river.‘Leave no-one behind’ is the tag line for the Sustainable Development Goals. In disaster management this idea takes on a very practical meaning. People with disability are two to four times more likely to die or be injured in a disaster than the general population. So why is our planning and risk reduction failing people with disability?

Being able to attend community meetings to find out what to do in an emergency is one factor. Having more than one person in the household with disability is another. Community education and plans assume everyone can get out of the house with a few belongings, get in the car and drive to safety. But some of the problem is that people with disability don’t make a plan or don’t tell anyone their plan. 

There is no nationally consistent standard for including people with disability in disaster risk reduction. An article in The Conversation explains some of the research into this. It includes the comments made by people with disability when asked about disaster planning. One such comment is very telling,

“But I spoke to three different people who had three different disabilities, and you realise that the communication has to be targeted. Because those three people required completely different things. And the information they got was not in a mode which they could use.”

Four men with orange lifejackets are standing in a yellow State Emergency Service boat on a swollen river.The title of the article in The Conversation is, ‘Nobody checked on us’: what people with disability told us about their experiences of disasters and emergencies

The academic version was published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. The title of the paper is, Applying a person-centred capability framework to inform targeted action on Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction, and is available from ScienceDirect.  

Key points from the study are:

• Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction requires collaboration with people with disability to remove barriers that increase risk in emergencies.

• The Person-Centred Emergency Preparedness framework directs attention to the choices that people with disability have in emergency situations and factors that enable or limit them.

• Findings can be used to support implementation of Australia’s National Strategy for Disaster Resilience by defining person-centred responsibilities of people with disability and service providers in emergencies.

“Findings from this study enabled deep insight into the diversity and interrelatedness of factors that increase the vulnerability of people with disability and their support networks to disaster; offering new perspectives on why Australian’s with disability are disproportionately affected by disaster. The Capability Approach is used to consider what is required for stakeholders to work together across sectors to increase the safety and resilience of people with disability to disaster.”

Climate Change includes everyone

View of a cyclone forming taken from space.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.”