Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction Working Session: “Proactive Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Inclusive DRR for All”
With 15% of the world population, or about 1 billion people, living with disabilities, it is unsettling to know that at this time, this relatively large group is unduly affected in disasters and emergency situations compared to the general population.
The reasons are often lack of accessible infrastructure and policies that enable appropriate response and recovery. But the Great East Japan Earthquake was the first time this disproportion was displayed in plain numbers. The post-disaster research conducted by the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, which reported the mortality rate of people with disabilities as two to four times higher than that of the general population was difficult to swallow.
People with disabilities whom I met through our disaster relief efforts, shared with me the tremendous challenges they faced from the emergency to the recovery phase. A major challenge was access to vital information. For example, early warnings for evacuation were only available in the form of sirens and audio announcements. This made it difficult to make informed decisions and access needed social services. Another challenge was accessing public facilities. Many evacuation shelters were not accommodating for people in wheelchairs.
These stories were clear indications of how, up to now, persons with disabilities had been excluded from the design, planning, and implementation process of disaster risk reduction in their communities and lacked opportunities to positively contribute to the resilient-development of the entire community. In other words, all this time, they had not been fully recognized as important stakeholders in their communities.
So, as not to repeat what happened before and to make the best of the lessons learned, The Nippon Foundation has been working with local communities in the affected regions with the aim of improving the rebuilding effort by engaging with various members of the community, including people with disabilities.
We have also been working with UN agencies to further advance disability inclusive DRR in various regions around the world. In the UN Expert Group Meeting held with UN DESA in 2012 in Tokyo, experts representing NGOs, universities, corporations, and television networks gathered together and made recommendations for raising awareness of information accessibility and including persons with disabilities within disaster response and management. And in April 2014, The Nippon Foundation together with ESCAP co-hosted the Asia-Pacific Meeting on Disability-inclusive DRR and submitted a proposal to include Disability Inclusive DRR in the Post-2015 Hyogo Framework for Action.
It is significant that, for the first time in the history of the UN World Conference on DRR, there is a session dedicated to inclusive DRR with the proactive participation of persons with disabilities. And this was the first time where a majority of sessions were fully accessible, both in terms of physical accessibility and information accessibility. It was a pleasure to work with fellow members of the Disability Group, the government of Japan, the city of Sendai, and the UNISDR in making this conference accessible to all.
I have high hopes that the adoption of a disability inclusive post-2015 framework will serve to encourage the full participation of people with disabilities in all phases of disaster management and ultimately reduce human casualties.
The post-2015 development agenda is expected to be adopted by UN Member States at the Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September of this year. It is my hope that what we accomplish here at this world conference will help to advance disability inclusion in not just the area of disaster management but in a larger framework of global development, including the Sustainable Development Goals.