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Report: Discrimination Threatens Marginalized People Most During Disasters

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says people who suffer discrimination are often overlooked in times of disaster and may not survive those crises. This year's World Disaster Report tackles the problem of discrimination in disasters and examines ways to help marginalized people get a fair share of assistance. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the launch of the report in Geneva.

The report says disasters do not discriminate, people do. And this often can lead to loss of life, disability and increased poverty.

The report lists the elderly, people with disabilities, certain minorities and women as groups that might suffer discrimination, either intentionally or unintentionally, when disaster strikes.

The report's editor, Mohammed Mukhier, says these people suffer disproportionately before and after a crisis and this can have serious consequences.

"For example, about 40 percent of the older people in Darfur were at the risk of malnutrition in 2006," he said. "And two years after the Pakistan earthquake, there are still about 2,000 children waiting for artificial limbs. Health organizations are not set up to discriminate against people in need, but without careful consideration of the identity, location and the needs of vulnerable and marginalized groups, discrimination can happen."

The report finds discrimination is increasing, because the world is facing a greater number of natural disasters. In 2006, 427 natural disasters were reported worldwide, less than the previous year. But the report says nearly 500 natural disasters have occurred this year, already making 2007 a record year for disasters.

Secretary-General of the International Red Cross Federation, Markku Niskala, says climate change is one of the factors that will increase the number of disasters. And this, he says, automatically makes discrimination a bigger problem.

"I think lessons learned from Katrina, the tsunami and many other big disasters is that we need continuously better contingency planning for disasters and better coordination mechanisms," he noted. "Only by involving local communities into this type of planning will we really be able to reach those marginalized and vulnerable people, which in many cases are overlooked."

The report notes discrimination occurs at all times - before, during and after a disaster, but when it happens during an emergency, it says discrimination can be life threatening.