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Disaster risk reduction: From wheelchairs to typhoons

Source(s):  CBM International (CBM)

By Gordon Rattray

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…


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 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.


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 changed 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.

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.


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’ve already created a few plans to better protect it on my next trip…

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  • Publication date 21 Nov 2014

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