Tag Archives: development

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


CRPD committee issues statement on disability-inclusive DRR

A boat with accessibility ramp

A rescue boat with accessibility features from a flood-prone region of Bangladesh

As a member of the UN CRPD committee, I am very proud that we have issued a formal statement on the need to specifically include persons with disabilities in the process leading up to



the 3rd world conference on disaster risk reduction in Japan in 2015, and also inclusion in the outcome recommendations.

How did this happen?

Margareta Wahlström, UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) took time out of her busy schedule to talk to UN CRPD committee members about disability and DRR in the 12th session. The result of her visit was a strong commitment by members to issue a statement on disability-inclusion as the preparations for the world conference commence.

Why include disability?

Firstly, when the United Nations involves civil society in preparations and negotiations of particular world conferences, it does so through its ‘Major Group’ structures.  However, persons with disabilities do not have a specific major group to call their own, hence we have to ask to be included and participate, in an accessible way, every step of the way…

Secondly, the impact of a disaster or conflict is greater for persons with disabilities, we are more at risk during disasters and conflicts,  and disability is often the result of conflict or disaster;  read more from CBM’s Inclusive Emergency Response Unit.

If you are interested in this subject, you can read fellow blogger, Gordon Rattray’s wonderful stories.



Moving towards a rights based approach to EU development cooperation

It has been a long time since I wrote my last blog. I think it was exactly one year ago when I attended the 66th World Health Assembly. And now one year later I’m in Brussels and I would love to talk you through the biggest EU spring forum on human rights!

Each year the European Commission organizes a spring forum dedicated to the reality of human rights on the ground and in particular to the implementation of the European Instrument for Human Rights and democracy (EIDHR).

This year the forum was once again an excellent opportunity to exchange with the EU institutions and meet more than 300 NGOs from all over the world.

It is always so powerful to hear and feel the passion and the vibrating energy of each discussion across this Forum!

This year’s forum saw in particular the launch of the “EU Toolbox on a Rights Based Approach encompassing all human rights in EU development”. On behalf of Concord and as co-Chair of the Task Force on a Human Rights Based Approach, I was one of the panelist during the presentation of the toolbox. Other panelists included:

  • Ms. Wan-Hea Lee, Head of OHCHR Cambodia
  • Ms. Paola Simonetti, International Trade Union federation
  • Ms. Nele Meyer, Amnesty International

The lively debate, which followed the presentation of the toolbox, brought on the table interesting points on the implementation of the toolbox, amongst others: how do we ensure the participation of rights holders beyond Europe? And how do we empower them? And what’s the role for advocacy in the implementation of the toolbox?

All the panelists stressed the crucial role that the advocacy component can and will play in its implementation. In particular, it will be central to raise awareness and build the capacities of both duty bearers and rights holders. Although the toolbox gives a prominent role to transparency and accountability, we all called on the importance of holding duty bearers accountable, including Member States, and to define how and in how far.

2016 is foreseen as the first assessment of the toolbox.

Finally, the toolbox will be a great tool that will allow the further implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In fact, the CRPD is not only referenced in the document, but I am also pleased to see that participation and non discrimination, access to information – including in accessible formats – and equal access to development are central to the document and its core principles.

Now I very much look forward to see how this tool, which for the time being is not yet binding, will be turned into practice and to what extent the focus on inclusive development will be kept in future trainings and workshops on the toolbox.

This is all by now, but you will read from me very soon, and next time around it will be from another part of the world…

Launch of our new improved Advocacy and Alliances Newsletter

My blog today is to introduce to you the new and improved Advocacy and Alliances Newsletter. Our monthly newsletter has been reborn this month. From this point forward, each month we will tackle a key development issue and a guest writer will give their views on the topic. We are pleased to announce our first guest writer, this month, MEP Michael Cashman. He has written an article for us on the post 2015 agenda with a focus on human rights.

Fredrick Msigallah from CBM partner CCBRT in Tanzania discusses disability inclusive development with Michael Cashman MEP at the European Parliament

Fredrick Msigallah from CBM partner CCBRT (Tanzania) discusses disability inclusive development with Michael Cashman MEP at the European Parliament, Photo CCBRT

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