Complex needs of people with disability not being accounted for

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… as the climate crisis impacts heavily on them

By Partinella Ngozo

People with disabilities are at an increased risk of the adverse impacts of climate change including threats to their food security, health, sanitation and livelihoods, yet the mainstream environmental discourse often excludes their voices or treats them as disposable, it has been revealed.

People with disabilities make up an estimated 15% of the global population. Due to discrimination, marginalisation, and certain social and economic factors, people with disabilities may experience the effects of climate change differently and more intensely than others.

Speaking during the Climate Justice Talk-Show (an online platform on climate justice), founder and Director of Ruvimbo Simulation Centre Dr Gilliet Chigunwe, stated that extreme weather events have affected people with disabilities as they may find themselves in difficult circumstances they cannot navigate.

“Due to discrimination, marginalization, and certain social and economic factors, people with disabilities may experience the effects of climate change differently and more intensively than others. Take, for example, climate displacement. Climate change exacerbates extreme weather events, which is one of the factors driving increased migration in recent years. Because the ability to migrate often depends on resources and mobility, marginalized populations – such as people with disabilities – might be unable to travel and so forced to remain in degraded environments without housing, employment, support networks, or health care services.

“People with disabilities (PWDs) also experience poverty at more than twice the rate of people without disabilities. This puts people with disabilities at heightened risk, as the world’s poorest people continue to experience the most severe impacts of climate change through lost income, displacement, hunger, and adverse impact on health.

Research has shown that a critical disability lens is largely lacking from broader aspects of climate change adaptation planning.

Climate Reality Leader who is also the director of the Climate Justice Talk-Show, Perseverance Javangwe added that the complex needs of people with disability are not accounted for and most of them suffer to diseases as a result of climate change.

“Climate change has been linked to a rise in infectious and chronic diseases globally. Respiratory diseases like asthma, tick-borne illness like Lyme disease, as well as viral infectious like anthrax are becoming more prevalent, which more severely affect people with pre-existing conditions. People with disabilities are more adversely affected by pollution, extreme heat, wildfires and storms. The rise in extreme weather events can worsen chronic health conditions including respiratory, neurological, and psychological illness.

“Often, policies aimed at climate adaptation are ablest. The complex needs of people with disabilities are often not accounted for in disaster planning. For example, people who are deaf may not hear warning sirens for wildfires etc.

“There are many accounts of people with disabilities being neglected during natural disasters such as storms and wildfires. Others may be abandoned by family members and caregivers. Accessible tools are often unavailable, or arrive delayed, during evacuation procedures.

“People with disabilities who have multiple marginalised identities suffer first and foremost severely from climate change. People with disabilities experience poverty at more than twice the rate of people without disabilities. Therefore, they are less able to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather. They are less able, for example, afford air-conditioning or migrate to cooler neighborhoods to manage increased heat,” said Javangwe.

Furthermore, Tinashe Muberekwa who is the Smile Action International (SAI) PRD & Director In Charge of SAI Zimbabwe also spoke on the same show and said that climate change hamper people with disabilities from enjoying their human rights as enshrined in the Constitution.

“Climate change has the greatest impact on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people including Persons With Disabilities (PWDs). Among this group persons with disabilities, are the disadvantaged ones. The topic of Climate Justice is Disability Justice is of greater significance to Smile Action International work across all branches in the world. Its about persons with disabilities and their families as well as community on major issues of how they cope with Food, shelter and health . More so it is about their right to access health, education and livelihood opportunities in changing environments. It is about hope and innovation. It is about ensuring persons with disabilities are included and put on centre in seeking to create awareness, understanding and solutions.

“Climate change has both a direct and indirect impact on the effective enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including the rights of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities are among those most affected in an emergency, sustaining disproportionately higher rates of morbidity and mortality, and at the same time being among those least able to have access to emergency support (UN Human Rights,2020)

“The impacts of climate change on Persons with disabilities requires adequate measures that take into account specific requirements and ensure PWDs participate in disaster response planning for emergency situations and evacuations, humanitarian emergency response and health care services.

“The meaningful participation, inclusion and leadership of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations within disaster risk management and climate-related decision-making at the local, national, regional and global levels, lies at the heart of an approach to climate action that is respectful of the rights of persons with disabilities,” said Muberekwa.

The United Nations promulgated 22 standard rules on the equalisation of opportunities for people with disabilities (USIS, 2006). This standard rules mandated all member states to observe inclusivity of persons with disabilities at all levels of development.

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