Author Archives: Gordon Rattray

Gordon Rattray

About Gordon Rattray

@gordonrattray - Gordon Rattray is the Emergency Communications Coordinator for CBM. Originally from the UK, Gordon has been living in Belgium for more than 10 years. In the 1990s he graduated with honours in plant molecular biology and ecology from the University of Glasgow, then spent several years working as an overland driver in Africa, followed by marketing adventure travel. He authored Africa's first safari guide for people with disabilities, visiting and rating more than 300 camps, lodges and hotels for accessibility. A course in web development in 2009 gave Gordon a means to enter the world of global development, and after almost four years managing the international website of CBM, he moved into the organisation's Emergency Response Unit. Gordon is passionate about inclusion and accessibility, from the built environment to communication and information technology.

Inclusive humanitarian action – Africa leads the way

The 4th Annual International Humanitarian Partnership Conference, organised under the Inter Agency Working Group on Disaster Preparedness for East & Central Africa (IAWG), has just finished in Nairobi. It was a pleasure to attend, and to have the chance to contribute. And it was an inspiration to all who are advocating for meaningful inclusion in humanitarian action.

I embolden the word ‘meaningful’ because I see a difference emerging in the rhetoric at these events. Attendees are now generally aware of the statistics like one billion persons with disabilities worldwide, and the fact that people with disabilities are disproportionately affected in disaster and conflict situations. But now, it seems we are moving on, and really identifying the causes and solutions.

The theme at this year’s conference was ‘Disability and Age Inclusion in Humanitarian Practice: Scaling up progress toward the achievement of Agenda 2030‘. The timing is good: In the last 18 months we’ve seen the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), the release of the related Dhaka Declaration, and the launch of the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action. And of course we have the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which marks 10 of existence this year.

These documents provide the foundations. We are now ready to build, and I saw evidence of this over the last few days.

Many speakers highlighted in their presentations that if we are to achieve inclusion as an end result, then we need to ensure inclusion from the outset. What does this mean? It means that persons with disabilities – usually through Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) – must be part of policy-making and planning of humanitarian action. And this should not be simply ‘checkbox attendance’, but should be meaningful (that word again) participation.

There was a real appreciation during the event of the various unique skills and knowledge of the individuals present and of the organisations they represent (from humanitarian organisations, to DPOs, to organisations of older people). So much so that hands shot up at the end when asked who has specialist knowledge to share. One participant neatly described it as ‘organisations helping each other through the baby steps of learning inclusion’.  Call it baby steps or not, I’m sure there will be much networking and cross-learning to come.

A regional working group on inclusion was proposed, and widely seconded.

And there was a general acceptance of the fact that to achieve this ‘first phase’ inclusion, organisations need a smarter hiring process and accessible infrastructure. All good news.

For me, I was delighted to present our new Humanitarian Hands-on Tool, which is still a prototype but well on the way to release. Feedback on this was positive. We are at the point where the basic nuts and bolts guidance is necessary for field workers tasked with inclusive preparedness and response initiatives. Watch this space for this one.

Of course, the need for data disaggregated by disability was raised. This is not an afterthought: It is an ongoing concern across all the 2015 agenda fields, an essential prerequisite if we are to deliver aid that works for everyone.

Lastly, a telling point was when asked who is responsible for ensuring inclusion, we came to the conclusion that we all are.  I look forward to the future.

Read some of the social media buzz as it happened

 

 

‘At the heart’ of humanitarian decision-making

“Together we launched a ground-breaking charter that places people with disabilities at the heart of humanitarian decision-making”

When Ban Ki-moon makes a statement like that, of course it does not mean we have achieved all our goals yet but it does show a hugely positive shift in the understanding of disability in situations of crisis, conflict and disaster. Gone are the stereotypical phrases that generally lead us back to a ‘charity’ model. Instead, there is the recognition of the necessity to have us at the table where plans are made; this is the first step towards real inclusion.

This is what I was writing about before the World Humanitarian Summit opened, so it was with great pleasure that I heard Secretary-General of the United Nations close the summit in such a way.

So it is a first step, but no time to relax. Now the real work begins: ensuring the the Charter, already endorsed by more than 80 stakeholders, is used, promoted and further endorsed;  ensuring that persons with disabilities and disabled people’s organisations are really part of discussions as equal partners and not only consulted in a check-box style approval process; and increasing the exchange of skills and knowledge between the humanitarian and disability communities.

I’m flying shortly, but will add to this blog soon, with more details on events over the last couple of days and opinion/comments from participants, so do check back. In the meantime, if you weren’t following live, you can catch up here:

@CBMworldwide
@gordonrattray
@Vscherrer

And now updated, 26th May

During the events I sought the opinions of several people. Here are two that struck me as particularly relevant.

Two men at a booth in a conference. The booth has branding 'CBM HHoT, Humanitarian Hands-on Tool'

Nazmul Bari at the CBM HHoT booth in the World Humanitarian Summit Innovation Fair. HHoT is a prototype application to provide humanitarian field workers with practical guidance on accessibility

Nazmul Bari, Director, Centre for Disability in Development (CDD):

“There are many barriers that cause persons with disabilities to be left behind during humanitarian crises. These begin to take effect immediately post-disaster, with a lack of data and info meaning that rescuers don’t know specifics about who lives where. Then, the sudden change in environment means that difficult decisions must be made, like who to prioritise during evacuation; persons with disabilities are often seen as least important.

“Transportation to safe shelter may not be accessible and once reaching there we have examples where people are turned away on the grounds of their disability. Even if the shelter is reached and the person is accepted, there are considerations like safety, security and accessibility of latrines.

“As time moves on, the next priorities include ensuring that relief efforts are inclusive. Commonly, information about and location of distribution points are not accessible to everyone. As well as directly excluding some people this indirectly puts an extra burden on family members who may then have to collect and transport multiple relief items. A further consequence is that normal support systems – e.g. caring for children – may be disrupted. There are then more challenges once early recovery is underway: Are livelihood and longer-term rebuilding/reconstruction efforts taking the needs of everyone into account?”

Two women at a booth during a conference. The booth has branding 'Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities'

Nelly Caleb, co-Chair of Pacific Disability Forum (PDF) at the Disability Group booth

Nelly Caleb, National Coordinator of Disability Promotion and Advocacy Association in Vanuatu, Board Member International Disability Alliance (IDA) and co-Chair of Pacific Disability Forum (PDF):

Persons with disabilities are excluded from projects and policies, even if, on paper, they are ‘included’. We must be able to actively participate. In the South Pacific we see disaster affects persons with disabilities a lot, so PDF helped different countries such as Vanuatu to developed a toolkit to help NGOs, civil societies and these countries to facilitate inclusion in their Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and disaster response work.

 

World Humanitarian Summit – a quick first note

Boarded and taxiing for take-off to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, I reflected on access and inclusion. Things were slick and efficient at Brussels airport. Sure, the assistance were five minutes later than promised but it was obvious that passenger rights and dignity were priorities, and that and I’m generally not excluded from services that my fellow travellers have access to. I’m lucky enough in my home an professional life to feel equally involved, living independently and being part of a busy emergency response unit.

But switch context to a situation of disaster – an earthquake, conflict, or typhoon – and it’s clear that things have potential to be very different. Homes destroyed perhaps, friends/families separated, basic essentials like food and water in short supply or non-existent; the list can go on… At this point priorities must be made, and – for many reasons – much of the relief and recovery work neither reaches nor involves a significant part of the affected population. It’s the point at which the concept of inclusion moves beyond comfort and dignity and becomes life-saving.

To put numbers to it, one in seven of the global population is a person with a disability. There are also reports of mortality rates exceeding that of the rest of society by up to four times.

Participation

But to look at these figures positively, it is a massive resource of untapped potential. In December, for example, I visited the work of some of our partners in Bangladesh where disaster preparedness work that benefits the whole community is being driven by disability inclusion. A large part of our relief and recovery work in Nepal over the last year was done in collaboration with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs), who knew not only how quickest and most accurately to identify the most marginalised people, but how to ensure the information about relief work and the services themselves were accessible.

This is the point; until all emergency responders practice inclusion to this degree there will always be a percentage of the population who are left behind.

Follow live

The WHS starts officially today, and is geared to address some of these issue, with various events and one of the Special Sessions dedicated specifically to disability. It is imperative that the outcomes reflect this agenda.

I’ll write again, but In the meantime do follow live:
@CBMworldwide
@gordonrattray
@Vscherrer

Webstream https://www.worldhumanitariansummit.org/live

 

Dhaka, disability and disaster risk reduction

As I sit here amidst the honking of horns of the Dhaka rush hour, I take the chance to reflect on some of what I’ve seen over the last few days…

Sandwiched between the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh is a disaster-prone land. Glacial and rain-induced flooding, cyclones and earthquakes are some of the hazards that it’s exposed to, so maybe it’s no surprise that the country is taking a leading role on the global disaster risk reduction stage. Specifically, the Dhaka Declaration, adopted last week at the Dhaka Conference on Disability and Disaster, is a two-year plan with strategic action points that will help shape governments’ Disaster Risk Management (DRM) policy in line with the Sendai Framework.

But enough jargon – what does all this mean in practice?

After the conference, I had the good fortune to escape the motorised jam of the capital city and visit some project work being done by our partner Centre for Disability in Development with Gana Unnayan Kendra in Gaibandha, in the north of the country.

yellow fields

Mustard fields in winter (dry season)

Deceptively tranquil, with fields of bright yellow mustard and rice paddies at all stages of growth (apparently the fertile ground can provide up to four harvests per year), this region is often affected by severe flooding. To avoid significant loss of their harvests, livestock and indeed their own lives, the local people need to be prepared.

The measures that are being taken are impressive, providing a seamless framework that starts at the local communities and links with government bodies. They reflect the ‘people-centred’ approach called for by Sendai, but also, in line with the Dhaka Declaration, they revolve around the inclusion of persons with disabilities in leadership roles, and have had some stunning results so far.

From exclusion to respect

The highlight for me was probably meeting what is known as the ‘Apex’ body, a group of disability leaders from local self-help groups who come together (I think they said bi-weekly) to plan their advocacy towards inclusion.

Led by Kazol Rekha, some of their greatest successes to date include:

  • increasing access to disability allowance by influencing the ‘open budget’ procedure (this action also allowed other more marginalised people to participate, proof if it is needed of the value of disability inclusion to the wider community)
  • creating an increase in the provision of assistive devices (including mobility tricycles and white canes)
  • and, on a practical level, having the local social services office moved from the (inaccessible) second floor to the ground floor
A young woman wearing traditional Bengali dress

Shirin – “I work to make sure other children do not miss their schooling as I did”

Shirin, one of the many female members of the group, has a learning disability and had very limited opportunity to attend school, but captured the mood of the moment perfectly:

“I was excluded, people did not give me respect; but now they are curious and want to know where I’m going and what I’m doing. I work to make sure other children do not miss their schooling as I did”.

Badsha Mia, another member of the group said “​I cannot imagine the changes over last two months: trainings, meetings… when people stop to talk they talk with us first; previously I felt limited as someone with a disability, but now no longer.”

So how does this link to DRR for all?

People, including a wheelchair user, seated cross-legged in a group in a public event

Kazol Rekha (in red) leading disaster management discussions during mock drill event. Kazol is also receiving training, to allow her to support people to learn their legal rights.

These people are not only personally empowered, but are positively affecting their community approach to resilience. We met the sub-district executive officer, who – with sincerity and a real understanding of inclusion – opined that “good human society brings marginalised people into the mainstream”, while highlighting the need for data on disability and access in infrastructure.

We attended a ‘mock drill’ organised by a school. This theatrical event drew hundreds of local people and depicted the process of community preparedness and response to flooding.

Early warning messages were given in various formats (ensuring they can be seen, heard, understood by all) and similarly, persons with disabilities, women and older people – often forgotten – were active throughout the decision-making and evacuation procedures.

It was impressive to see, and what sticks in the mind is that children (including children with disabilities) were centre-stage, providing invaluable foundations for future resilience.

The ‘last mile’

A man holding a red flag

A Ward Disaster Management Committee member explains their accessible early warning system

Back to real life, we met with the Union (Council) and Ward (more local level) Disaster Management Committees. These meetings were brief but powerful. The Apex body of persons with disabilities have representation with strong influence here, showing how the last mile between government and community can be covered.

This ‘last mile’ concept is easily exemplified by the community planning and preparing their own (accessible) early warning system, which includes coloured flags and audible messages.

And it was clear to us that the other committee members appreciate the value of inclusion – the secretary of the Union committee chairperson closed by saying that she is “waiting for the day when someone like Kazol is in her position“.

The way forward from Sendai

Schoolchildren (including wheelchair user)

Children learning about inclusive DRR during mock drill

There was much more, including visits to examples of income generating activities and accessible flood-prone housing, but the final message that is worth sharing, which was echoed by several of the groups we met, is that they know their work is changing their world but they want it to change THE world.

Following their example and implementing the Sendai Framework using government-endorsed papers like the Dhaka Declaration will do just this.

 

Dhaka Declaration – Disability-inclusive Sendai implementation