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Disaster Planning Often Overlooks Disabled

  • VOA News

FILE - A U.N. report says disaster planning often neglects to take those with disabilities in mind.

FILE - A U.N. report says disaster planning often neglects to take those with disabilities in mind.

People with physical or cognitive disabilities die or are injured in natural disasters at a much higher rate than the general population. Part of the blame rests with emergency planning officials and governments, according to a new U.N. report.

In a survey of 5,450 people from 126 countries, the U.N. found that the disabled are rarely consulted about their needs. Specifically, 20 percent said they could evacuate immediately in the case of a sudden disaster, while the remainder said they could only do so with a degree of difficulty. Six percent said they would not be able to evacuate at all.

It is estimated that 15 percent of the world’s population lives with some kind of disability.

Some respondents shared personal concerns, including one who said they had to sleep in their wheelchair during bad weather in order to be able to evacuate quickly. Another deaf respondent said they had to stay up to watch potential severe weather because they could not hear warning sirens. Yet another said they took their service dog into the bathroom during tornado warnings.

“The results of this survey are shocking,” said Margareta Wahlström who heads the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). “It clearly reveals that the key reason why a disproportionate number of disabled persons suffer and die in disasters is because their needs are ignored and neglected by the official planning process in the majority of situations. They are often left totally reliant on the kindness of family, friends and neighbors for their survival and safety.”

The top five hazards or disaster risks faced by survey respondents were floods, 54 percent; extreme weather, 40 percent; tornados, 39 percent; drought, 37 percent; and earthquakes, 27 percent.

The challenges of evacuation are obvious from the high percentages of survey respondents who have a degree of difficulty either hearing (39 percent) or seeing (54 percent), walking or climbing steps (68 percent), and difficulty communicating (45 percent).

The survey highlighted the importance of early warning systems, but showed that only 14 percent of those surveyed had been consulted about the disaster management plan in their community. If given more time to prepare, 38 percent said they’d be able to evacuate immediately, but 58 percent still said they might face challenges and four percent said they would not be able to evacuate.

Furthermore, the 22-question survey showed that 71 percent of respondents had no personal preparedness plan in the event of a disaster and only 31 percent have someone always available to help them. Thirteen percent said they never have anyone to help them.

Some recommendation that could potentially help the disabled during a disaster also emerged from the survey. Perhaps most importantly, people need to think about the needs of their neighbors and realize the challenges those living with disabilities might face in the event of a catastrophe. Wheelchair accessibility was also identified as a key concern among many respondents.

Furthermore, respondents said emergency evacuation shelters need to accommodate those with disabilities. Another suggestion was to offer disaster risk reduction apps for the phone.

UNISDR plans to continue surveying through the rest of the year to grow the sample size.

“UNISDR will ensure that their knowledge and experiences are taken fully into consideration at the 2015 World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction when U.N. Member States meeting in Japan will adopt a new global framework for disaster risk reduction to replace the current Hyogo Framework for Action,” said Wahlström.

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