Tag Archives: disaster risk reduction

Many lessons learnt a year since the Nepal Earthquake

As I walked through the tiny entrance of a narrow but towering structure housing one-room homes in Madhyapur Thimi, a municipality in Bhaktapur District, I was hit by the vision of what it would have been like trying to escape through the a narrow and creaky wooden stairway when the Nepal Earthquake 2015 struck around noon on a balmy Saturday.

I brushed aside my anxiety and began groping in the dark for support though it was around noon; the bright sun outside offered a strange contrast to darkness in the building. Over the next week or so the question kept troubling me as the people we met talked about those who were left behind.

I was getting back after interviewing one of the survivors who are rebuilding their lives through the CBM and partners’ emergency response. For some of these partners, this was their first foray into emergency response, but they have great experience working on disability and development, so the projects extend smoothly into building community level capacity. I had been traveling to document what has changed as we approached the first anniversary of the Nepal Earthquake that killed over 8,000 people and injured more than 21,000.

Image of a temple partly destroyed by Nepal Earthquake o2015

A year since the Nepal Earthquake of 2015, the culturally important monuments still bear the marks of destruction.

An earthquake quake that ended the quiet

Sipping tea in the idyllic setting of the campus of the Hospital and Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children, Dr. Bikash Man Singh underlined quite literally with his finger on a neat table top that the focus in now on preparedness and to map most at risk  sections of the community, especially people with disabilities, and build capacity of the health staff and community workers.

“The earthquake has taught us a difficult but a much-needed lesson of planning and working together, not just when a disaster happens, but all through… as one cannot see it just as a project… it’s an approach,” he said.

CBM has been working in the region specifically with medical and health institutions that play a critical role in the chain of events that follow when disasters strike.

Nepal has a vocal disability sector and a national level network of disability organisations that give advocacy teeth when it comes to national level policies. The earthquake has driven home the need for disability rights organisations to embrace the approach of disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction (DRR).

“We were all left shocked by the earthquake and deeply concerned about the impact it had on people with disabilities. The questions kept coming, on how will they reach the camps, medical centres, relief distribution… including issues like the accessibility of communication and response infrastructure being created,” said Manish Prasai, Administrative Manager, National Federation of the Disabled, Nepal.

Manish Prasai, Administrative Manager, National Federation of the Disabled, Nepal.  Manish has been a bold voice in Nepal’s disability sector.

Manish Prasai, Administrative Manager, National Federation of the Disabled, Nepal.

Manish has been a bold voice in Nepal’s disability sector and with CBM’s support, he has started steering the network to influence the national policy conversations on rebuilding and long-term planning around resilience.

“I don’t think people have forgotten the earthquake and its lessons… even the children who are barely at the age when they can speak talk about the disaster,” said Punyashori Suwal, an emergency response coordinator for the CBM support project with HRDC.

On the way back to Kathmandu city, we watched long queues of vehicles lined up for fuel that is still scarce with its distribution being regulated.

Punyashori talked about the experience of chaos that followed the earthquake with relief response not being well coordinated in the first few weeks. “We have learnt to appreciate the importance of coordination the hard way,” she said.

Stepping out of the longest two minutes

Everyone remembers where he or she was when the ground started shaking for close to two minutes. It felt like an eternity that changed things forever. When these stories are recounted one can see how their personal and collective memory has been impacted and reshaped by the disaster.

Even today wooden beams are seen holding the walls of buildings and historical structures in Madhyapur Thimi, one of the ancient, cultural and historical places along the trade route from Bhaktapur to Kathmandu.

This reminded me of the lingering impact it continues to have on survivors who have been receiving mental health support and psychosocial counselling from a CBM-supported project with partner KOSHISH, a respected and pioneering group working on mental health issues in Nepal.

“It is important to not let go of the realisation about the importance of trauma management and psychosocial care in disaster and the post-emergency response,” said Leela Khanal, Program development officer with CBM’s emergency response project. I was witness to how psychosocial trauma can leave not just individuals – like Hari, who is recovering now – but whole families isolated in society.

Santoshi, a survivor of the Nepal Earthquake 2015, with her family on a consultation  visit to Anandaban's  The Leprosy Mission  Hospital

Santoshi, a survivor of the Nepal Earthquake 2015, has recovered fully with the CBM supported project and is now looking at an independent future.

As we approach the anniversary of the April 2015 Nepal earthquake one can clearly see that the scars remain but so do the lessons learnt. What’s important is that there are more answers than questions.

Read more on CBM’s post emergency response in Nepal.


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


Disaster risk reduction – from wheelchairs to typhoons

During my visit to the UN in Geneva this week, I was trying to work out how to talk about DRR and relate it to something in everyday life. Arriving back in Brussels and seeing my damaged wheelchair (sorry, no photos), gave me an idea… In this case, good DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) would have been removing the joystick before giving the chair to the baggage handlers. This might have meant it survived the journey…

Ethic of prevention

On a global scale, when we are talking about whole communities (even whole populations) being affected by earthquakes, floods, droughts and cyclones, my story may seem incomparable. But the basic premise is the same: A good ethic of prevention will reduce the effects of such natural events.

Next March, in Sendai, Japan, the UNISDR will approve plans for global DRR after 2015. From Sunday to Tuesday this week I was in Geneva, at ‘Prepcom 2’, which is a step on the journey towards this event. Here, my CBM colleagues and I, plus many other members of the disability group, attended and took part in meetings. We are working to ensure disability is included in the global plans, and on the whole are greatly encouraged by current developments.

Disability-inclusive Sendai, and positive zero-draft

A group of people in front of screen with text 'WCDRR'

The announcement of ‘accessible Sendai’

One of the main announcements from this gathering is that Sendai WCDRR will be disability-inclusive. This means real-time captioning, sign language, and and outcome documents will be provided in accessible format. I had to leave the final session early to catch my plane but I read that the head of UNISDR Margareta Wahlström, in her closing remarks, said she was particularly pleased about these commitments.

In the document itself (which is currently at ‘zero-draft‘ stage) there are already many positive references to disability inclusion – it is recognised that Universal Design, accurate data about disability in disasters and accessible information and communication are all essential. And importantly, persons with disabilities are recognised as resources in building resilience as well as being more at- risk.

This zero draft is now being negotiated, and will be refined before Sendai, but we are very hopeful that the message that inclusion is essential is really in for good. Indeed, listening to the statements on Monday it definitely looks this way; by my count at least seven countries/regions mentioned disability inclusion, including the European Union, Latin America and the USA. I also sat in on the negotiations for a while (highly recommended, if you ever get the chance) and far from being removed, references to disability were actually added in two places.

Disability group recognised as important stakeholder group

A large conference hall with hundreds of delegates

Statements being read from regions and countries during the plenary session

As a recognised important stakeholder group, we ourselves read two statements – Thai Senator Monthian Buntan referring to the recent statement made by the UN CRPD Committee and MEP Ádám Kósa impressively demonstrating some conference access requirements by delivering his statement from the front of the auditorium as his sign interpretors were unable to work from the seating situation – a good learning for everyone there.

Targets and indicators

One of the next steps for UNISDR is to define targets and indicators for monitoring and reporting on DRR. With this in mind, the disability caucus organised a meeting brainstorming on making sure these indicators are disability-inclusive. Here, as an example of good practice, we had sign language interpretation and real-time captioning.

We had presentations from Monthian Buntan and Ádám Kósa, followed by a lively discussion. The key themes that surfaced were that indicators must be kept simple, reflect measurable levels of accessibility and participation and, as with all inclusion, people with disability must be involved at all stages. It was also noted, interestingly, that accessible technology is a developing opportunity, but must be reliable during disasters.

It may sound like a lot to achieve, but it does look like decision-makers have understood that not only are people with disability more at-risk, but their knowledge and experience is invaluable to the building of the resilience of communities as a whole.

On a personal level, my chair was not badly damaged (fixed already) but I already have a few plans to better protect it on my next trip…

Resources to advocate for active inclusion of people with disabilities in DRR



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.