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