Tag Archives: Emergencies

‘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:


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.


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.


The second quake – an unforgettable experience

A young boy on a bed, being hugged by a young woman

Denish, who was waiting for surgery when the second major earthquake hit

On 12th May I was at CBM partner HRDC (Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre for Disabled Children) to document our response to the first earthquake on April 25, and to record the journey of a child client from an affected district who’s now receiving free treatment. As Tuesday (and Wednesday) are surgical days here, I could find quite a few children who were injured during the quake and were on the list for surgical intervention. With the help of the nurses, I decided to make the story of Denish (who is 4), from Gorkha district, who sustained severe injuries to his right leg. (As their shelter collapsed, both the boy and his mother were buried in the debris. His mother later succumbed to her injuries… the boy was brought in an army hospital to Kathmandu.)

It was around 12 noon, I finished both the tasks and was waiting to have a word with the hospital management about the relief camps in the three CBM supported CBR districts. I had just entered the director’s room when a massive quake, almost of the same intensity as the April 25th, struck Nepal. Unlike the ongoing aftershocks, this one made an unusual noise. With me there were three other members in the room and within seconds all of us were out in the open. The tremors continued for more than 15 seconds…


Suddenly, my mind went to four-year-old Denish whose story I had just recorded. Earlier, as I was speaking to Denish’s caretaker, the boy – who was waiting to receive a minor surgery – had fallen asleep in his bed in the medical ward. Before leaving them, I had asked his caretaker Sabina (who is herself only 19) to wait for the nurse’s call to take the boy inside the operation theatre). As I stood there, I don’t know why I thought I should check if Denish is still sleeping the ward. Instinctively, I rushed for the medical ward amidst a crowd of bellowing children and patients. As I ran, I could feel the ground was still shaking… there were patients being pulled out on their stretchers. As I entered the ward, there was no-one inside, little Denish lay there in his bed, oblivious of what was happening outside. I quickly picked him up and rushed outside. After a brief look at the chaos around, Denish went back to sleep in his caretaker’s arms…

By then, the four patients inside the operation theatre had also been evacuated. They were somehow rolled out by the nurses, with drip still inserted in their hand. Their caretakers came crying and screaming as their wards were brought out of the theatre. Mothers hugged their children and cried as they tried to wake them up. Fortunately, there was no patient with a major surgery during the time of the earthquake. As the crowd settled, there was yet another massive aftershock and the hospital immersed in a roar of cries and prayers. I had never experienced something like this before…


A large tent with many people inside, some with plaster casts and crutches

Tents, donated by CBM, set up in open spaces

HRDC staff brought the tents that CBM had provided as relief materials. The staff team pitched 10 of them, one after the other, in the open spaces within the hospital premises. Soon, all 72 patients and their caretakers were accommodated and given refreshment. Nurses attended to those who were still on intravenous drip and counselled the parents not to worry about anything. Gradually, mats were taken out of the medical and rehab wards to make preparations for all children and caretakers to sleep in the tents at night. Soon, a decision was taken to cancel all surgeries scheduled for the next day.

At 5 pm, a pall of silence descended on the hospital. As I left, I was reminded of how a fresh quake rattled the country that day. However, after the first earthquake and a series of aftershocks, we had gathered requisite resources and were better prepared to deal with the situation… I hope we continue to exhibit the same spirit and preparedness for future quakes.

Read about my visit to one of our relief camps


Walking the talk on accessibility

It has been already three days since the world conference on DRR has started. It is such a chance to be part of this event together with my CBM colleagues. I am really glad that key messages on disability inclusion have been very well heard and received. The work that has been done on advocacy around disability inclusion is fantastic and I feel very privileged to be here with CBM and see the significant steps are currently being taken by governments towards greater inclusion of persons with disabilities into disaster risk management.

I have to say: CBM’s team and the Disability caucus group are doing an amazing job in promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities and universal design principles. Since my field of expertise focuses on accessibility to digital and built environments, I did my best to support them by raising the importance of universal design in different working sessions and public events. I had the opportunity to meet with important international agencies working on urban resilience and private companies such as Google involved in the field of information technology.

Today, CBM and the Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES) are presenting best practices on universal design and inclusive disaster risk reduction. Accessibility is an important contribution to safety in the event of disasters and emergencies, such as a fire in a confined area. Not only do barrier-free environments promote access to public buildings and information, but it also lowers everyone’s risk in the event of a disaster (for example, making early warning systems accessible to persons with hearing impairments, creating wide escape routes, covering open manholes, and removing tripping hazards on roads and footpaths; posting written and pictorial routes to assembly points).


Alt="Valerie Scherrer, Gordon Rattray, Benjamin Dard, Luke Purcell, and me"

From left to right: Valerie Scherrer, me, Luke Purcell, Elizabeth Lockwood. Centre- Gordon Rattray

CBM did not only introduce key messages on disability inclusion and universal design but also shared key publications to support implementation. For instance, the recent publication made by IFRC in partnership with Handicap International and CBM and entitled ‘All under one Roof’ provides important guidelines for disability-inclusive shelter and settlements in emergencies.

Another recent CBM publication provides 16 minimum requirements for building accessible shelters. These tools are important and indispensable to help other organisations to include disability and accessibility in their disaster response programs.

In two days it will be time to leave Sendai. This conference will remain an important milestone and represent a significant step towards inclusion of persons with disabilities in disaster risk reduction process. What has been achieved in Sendai will serve our work for the next coming years. Now we all look forward translating the post-2015 framework into practice! Let’s walk the talk!

Watch this short video where I speak about universal design and accessibility.