By Andy McElroy
Geneva – Double amputee Firoz Ali Alizada believes that people living with disabilities are the biggest untapped resource for disaster planners around the world.
The 31-year-old uses the example of his home country Afghanistan where people living with disabilities remain on the margins of decision making despite providing such a compelling example of day to day resilience.
"Good strategic sense, not pity, should demand that the perspectives of people living with disabilities are central to plans and actions in disaster management,” Mr Alizada said.
"Most people with disabilities deal with 'mini-disasters' each day. They are living examples of how to succeed in difficult circumstances, exactly the sort of people who have practical ideas that could be used by decision makers to make the country safer.
"Their unique and first hand experiences are not only beneficial to the safety of vulnerable groups but to all people at risk of disasters.
"However, in Afghanistan I am mostly greeted with a rather negative kind of sympathy. The prevailing attitude is very much charity based and it also comes with a sense that I am a burden.
"It is a shame because I believe that I have so much to offer: they should take my wisdom, not my dignity. There has been progress but we still have long way to go."
One day, when Mr Alizada was 13 years old, as he walked to school in his village, Jaraf, in Parwan province, north of Kabul, he stepped on a landmine.
Injured and in shock, his brother and relatives carried him two and a half hours to the nearest main road. By the time a truck dropped them at Charikar hospital 14 hours later Mr Alizada had lost consciousness. The clinic was overflowing and his brother paid a surgeon to treat Mr Alizada quicker. When he woke up his left leg was amputated above the knee and his right leg below the knee.
Mr Alizada's experience is a graphic illustration of the importance of first aid. "The blast took two toes on my right foot and the whole of my left foot. But after surgery I had lost most my right leg below the knee and my left leg above the knee," he said.
"Doctors in Kabul later told me that if I had had even the most basic of help quickly and appropriately then the surgery would have been far less radical; in other words I wouldn't have lost both of my legs."
Mr Alizada is one of thousands of people around the world who have participated in the first-ever survey of people living with disabilities and disasters – organised by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and partners – to mark the 2013 International Day for Disaster Reduction on 13 October.
"I wish, like my fellows around the world, to meaningfully participate in disaster management at all levels because our participation makes a difference in saving lives and reducing risks, particularly those avoidable risks that are a threat to people with disabilities," Mr Alizada said.
Have Your Say! If you're living with a disability or you are a caregiver, take our survey and share your thoughts on living with disasters. The survey is available here in several languages.