Tag Archives: sendai

World Tsunami Awareness Day and Persons with Disabilities

I had the honor to present at the side event at the United Nations on 3 November for the first annual World Tsunami Awareness Day. The event was co-hosted by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the Permanent Missions of Chile, Indonesia, Japan, and the Maldives to the United Nations.

Tsunamis are important to address since it is estimated in the past 100 years that at least 58 tsunamis have killed more than 260,000 people globally (UNISDR, 2016). The Sendai Framework, which was agreed in March 2015, provides the guidance to develop multi-hazard disaster risk reduction strategies (DRR) and strongly includes persons with disabilities.

As the only civil society presenter at the event, I was pleased to be able to give an intervention on behalf of CBM International and our Inclusive Emergency Response Unit and their stellar work with local partners to ensure that persons with disabilities are included at all levels of disaster preparedness and response. My presentation and the longer version for this blog were co-written by ERU’s Gordon Rattray. Thank you, Gordon, Valerie, and all of the ERU team!

I would also like to thank the Missions of Indonesia, Japan, and Ecuador for explicitly addressing accessibility and the inclusion of persons with disabilities in early warning systems and other DRR processes at the event.

How are persons with disabilities affected by tsunamis differently than other parts of community?

Fifteen percent of the global population has a disability. In any emergency or disaster, persons with disabilities are disproportionally affected and are at significantly higher risk than their peers without disabilities in times of a disaster. Recent figures from Miyagi prefecture following the Great East Japan earthquake indicate that the general mortality rate was 0.8% versus the mortality rate for persons with disabilities, which was 3.5% (UNESCAP, 2012). Reasons for this include inaccessibility of early-warning messages and emergency shelters, loss and damage of assistive devices, disruption of support networks, lack of communication and information access, and increased difficulty in accessing basic humanitarian operations (food, water, shelter, sanitation, and healthcare services). At the same time, emergencies can increase the number of people with disabilities, both short and long-term, due to injuries and lack of effective medical services.

In tsunamis, some degree of early warning will usually, but probably not always, be possible. The issue is that if the Early Warning System (EWS) is not accessible, it is very likely that persons with disabilities will not receive the vital information. For example, Deaf and hard of hearing people may not hear audible warnings, blind and low vision people may not see visual messages and various language considerations may be relevant for people with intellectual disabilities (and for anyone who is not a native speaker of the language being used).

If evacuation is possible, lack of accessible transportation and moving with a physical disability can be challenging. At an evacuation center there are myriad issues, such as lack of accessibility of restrooms, general accessibility of areas, lack of communication access (sign language and Braille), and people being lost and/or separated from their support networks.

Later, for people who survive the tsunami, accessing basic needs (often for survival) like clean drinking water, shelter, food and medical care are often difficult or impossible. At the same time, persons with disabilities may have lost items essential to their ability to function independently (wheelchairs, hearing aids, canes) or have been lost and/or separated from their support networks. Additionally, post-tsunami roads, sidewalks, and pathways can be obstructed by debris. And safety/security issues increase as well, including increased exposure to looting/robbery/assault, the latter being particularly an issue for women and girls with disabilities.

ALt="Presenting at the World Tsunami Awareness Day event "

Presenting at the World Tsunami Awareness Day event

What role are persons with disabilities playing now in reducing disaster risks?

Persons with disabilities are active participants in planning, implementation, and monitoring of reconstruction efforts. When persons with disabilities are considered not only recipients of aid, but as equals and are involved in relief efforts as active responders, their communities and society as a whole will benefit.

There are similarities between tsunamis and flooding and the following is an example of how persons with disabilities can be actively involved in DRR efforts to create positive change. One of CBM’s partners, the Center for Disability and Development (CDD) in Bangladesh assessed the region of Sreepur Union and found that 97 percent of persons with disabilities faced difficulties accessing safe drinking water and 96 percent had extreme difficulty in using latrines during floods.

The CDD project supported 18 persons with disabilities from six wards in the region to reconstruct accessible and flood-proofed housing with latrines and tube wells designed to continue functioning during flooding disasters. To ensure sustainability, families were encouraged to make the person with a disability owner of the land or at least part of the house to reduce stigma.

The cost of one flood-risk universally accessible house along with installation of one accessible tube well and latrine was approximately $1212. In partnership with local school management committees, local government and the community, the ground levels of two schools were also adapted to serve as accessible flood shelters with raised areas. The disability group managed to access and influence a local government budgeting procedure, which was already open to all, but not often used. The fact that persons with disabilities did this was seen by the wider community who were then inspired to do something similar showing that the empowerment of persons with disabilities in DRR processes is good for not only communities, but for society as a whole.


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


A new standard for accessibility has been set

Officially the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) is over! Persons with disabilities were incredibly visible and active at this conference setting a precedent for future UN conferences. In total, 6500 participants attended the conference with hundreds of persons with disabilities and partners. Continue below for a summary of disability-related events and details from March 16-18.

ON 16 March Senator Monthian Buntan of Thailand and CRPD Committee Member presented the disability stakeholder group statement. You can read the disability stakeholders’ statement here (scroll down to 16 March, 3pm) and watch it here. Following this, Senator Buntan and Valerie Scherrer gave a joint press conference to the Japanese media with the Minster of State of the cabinet office of Japan. Please click here for details.

On 17 March many disability-focused events and sessions took place. First, there was disability participation in the High-Level Partnership Dialogue on “Inclusive Disaster Risk Management: Governments, Communities And Groups Acting Together.” Carlos Kaiser from ONG Inclusiva from Chile was a panellist with hundreds in the audience. Throughout the session, persons with disabilities were repeatedly highlighted indicating the strong visibility of persons with disabilities at the conference. Mr. Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF mentioned persons with disabilities in his presentation, as well as Hon. Mr. Nicola Valluzzi, President of the Province of Potenza, Italy.

Shortly afterward, Maryanne Diamond, Chair of The International Disability Alliance (IDA) presented on the IGNITE Stage on the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the post-2015 framework for DRR. Ms. Diamond presented on the importance of synergizing the DRR and post-2015 development frameworks. Click here to watch Ms. Diamond’s presentation.

At a venue outside the Sendai International Centre, the Disability-Inclusive DRR Network (DiDRRN) hosted a side event focusing on DiDRR especially in areas and challenges in rural contexts and for women and girls with disabilities. This too was well attended with excellent global representation.

Also on 17 March, the Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES) organised event over Universal Design and Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction featuring collaboration with CBM on accessibility. Specifically, CBM has worked on accessibility in Haiti since 2010, first on promoting and ensuring accessibility in camps and mainstreaming universal design in the reconstruction, awareness-raising, training and technical expertise delivery.

Alt="An inclusive conference with sign language interpretation"

An inclusive conference with sign language interpretation

In the afternoon, there was a working session specifically focusing on the proactive participation of persons with disabilities in inclusive disaster risk reduction for all. This was very well attended with many positive comments from the floor. Click here to read more about the session. Closing the session the Latvian Vice-minister of Foreign Affairs announced that all EU States agree to DiDRR commitments.

On 18 March, an event organized by Overseas Development Institute took place at the IGNITE Stage focusing on the integration of gender, age, disability, and cultural perspectives in the post-2015 framework for DRR. The aim was to highlight the importance of the integration of gender, age, disability and cultural perspectives in DRR. Click here to watch this presentation.

Outcome Document Adopted

After many delays Member States adopted the outcome document at midnight, officially called the “Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030” (SFDRR). Persons with disabilities are well represented in the document, including disaggregated data by disability. Importantly, this document can be a model for the post-2015 development process in terms of the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Click here for details.

Margareta Wahlström, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, gave an excellent final speech at the closing of the conference. In her speech she emphasized how persons with disabilities have been visible and actively engaged in the conference, which was followed by a strong round of applause by the audience (28-minute mark). She continued by indicating that the WCDRR was one of, if not the most accessible UN conference ever held (29-minute mark). Powerfully, she stated that now a new standard for accessibility has been set (29-minute mark) also followed by strong applause. Click here to watch the incredible speech.

While there is no specific link to the post-2015 development agenda or climate change in the outcome document, the importance of this connection was emphasized in Margareta Wahlström’s closing speech in which she described reducing risk as “the bridge” between climate change and sustainable development.

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

Valerie Scherrer, Gordon Rattray, Benjamin Dard, Luke Purcell, and me

Final key points and quotes from the conference

  • On 14 March the Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Shinzo Abe pledged $US 4 billion to support the implementation of the “Sendai Cooperation Initiative for Disaster Risk Reduction” over the next four years.
  • This conference has been such a success for persons with disabilities. We have participation of persons with disabilities similar to a Conference of States Parties to the CRPD, but it’s a mainstreamed conference. – Vladimir Cuk, IDA
  • On the adoption of disaggregation of data by disability in the post-2015 DRR framework at WCDRR: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for our community.”- Ádám Kósa, the first signing Deaf EU Parliamentarian (Hungary)
  • We are here to make sure no one is left behind. –Carlos Kaiser, ONG Inclusiva, Chile
  • My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together. –Setareki Macanawai (Pacific Disability Forum) quoting Desmond Tutu
  • People with multiple disabilities also have the right to live. –Sonia Margarita Villacres, World Federation of the Deaf Blind, Ecuador
  • My passion is change, because change is the only sustainable thing in the world. –Muhammad Atif Shetkh, South Asian Disability Forum, Pakistan

Additional Information

Post-2015 Disaster Risk Reduction framework is disability-inclusive

UNISDR article on Inclusion builds Resilience

Sendai UN World Conference hailed for accessibility

Margareta’s link to the SDGs



Positive references to disability in DRR outcome document

It seems like yesterday that I last blogged, when I was so inspired about the shift in attitude towards disability from vulnerable to active participation. I’m still excited about it, and after the conference declaration was released today it looks like we are still on course.

A woman on stage with two people

Kazol Rekha, a young woman living in a village in a flood-prone area of Bangladesh, talks about her role on a local DRR committee

The last few days here at the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) in Bangkok has seen people from many different countries sharing their opinions on the way forward in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).

They’ve been showing examples from their home communities by giving live presentations and showing videos, and asking questions and raising issues during debates.

As you’ll have seen if you’ve been following us on Twitter or Facebook (do click the links!) we took part in all this, with our partners from the Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction Network (DiDRRN), including representative from many Disabled Peoples Organisations (DPOs) from the region.

We all know what we want – to make the post HFA document properly disability-inclusive, meaning that persons with disabilities are actively involved in DRR processes – and I seen so many great arguments for it. People have described it in different ways: People with disabilities should be seen as ‘agents of change, not vulnerable‘, ‘leaders, not liabilities‘, or ‘empowered decision makers, not passive recipients‘. Even Margareta Wahlström, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for DRR, said that the path ahead requires an inclusive and participatory work model involving everyone, during her opening speech on Tuesday.

This morning, the final declaration from the conference was released and includes reference to inclusion, disability and accessibility, in the context of ‘meaningful participation’ and ‘positive contribution’. Also, after Atif Sheikh, from our partner STEP, read the voluntary commitments from the disability stakeholder group, Ms Wahlström endorsed the right of persons with disability to be actively present in these discussions.

So all in all, good; a productive few days (plus all the hard work that has been done in the lead up to this week!)

But there is still so much to be done: we must make sure that the message remains loud and clear right up to the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Japan next March, and beyond. As Dodo (see below) said, “Let us persons with disabilities come together and show the world that, if empowered, we can build a better society”

I’ll leave you with some impressions and opinions from the last few days… enjoy.

Media panel discussion

Media panel discussion

I was part of a panel discussion on media, for international journalists, about disability inclusion in DRR and the role of the media. It must have been successful because I ran out of business cards to give out after it… let’s see how many people use them!

CBM also organised two similar events through the week: one for Thai journalists and one for young journalists. These were also successful, with the latter one featured on the conference newsletter today.

A man on astage communicating in sign. Behind him is a banner 'IGNITE STAGE - 6th AMFDRR'

Son Do explaining the video

Son Do, who is from Vietnam, is deaf, and works as a sign language translator/teacher. He is developing a project including a video for deaf people to learn about Community-Based Disaster Risk Management (CBDRM), which he showed as a side event during the conference.

The video shows a mapping system with accessible icons showing features like houses where people with disabilities live, areas affected by flooding, and evacuation paths.

Many people in a large auditorium, including wheelchair users and someone with crutches

Plenary session

Dodo (right, wearing shorts) and Parman (furthest left) are from Indonesia, and are seen here during one of the plenary sessions. Dodo is the leader of a health volunteer group which focuses on inclusion  of persons with disabilities in mainstream services. Both men have been identified as potential DRR leaders in their communities and told me they are looking forward to putting their learnings from the conference into practice at home.

Yousaf (with the camera) is from PSPDO, an implementng partner of STEP, based in Pakistan.

A woman seated

Litia, at the DIDRRN booth

Litia,  from Fiji, is a Community Based Inclusive Development officer with CBM partner Pacific Disability Forum.

She says “I am the expert in disability … I know the development that can happen if we are included”.

She goes to village, provincial and district meetings, persuading committees of the rights of persons with disabilities, and put her point across in style on stage yesterday, when she said that “Active inclusion of persons with disability in DRR will change mindsets”

Resources to advocate for disability inclusive post-2015 framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (HFA2)