Earthquake 2015 and its impact on disability

An eye opener for future.

Major Pawan Ghimire

Pawan Ghimire“In life always expect the unexpected”. This is what I was   made to accept as the motto during my active professional life. However,   in fact, that I never kept myself prepared for the unexpected ramification that I might encounter in my life. My unpreparedness for the unexpected situation paid me during the 25th April’s deadly earthquake, which nearly claimed my life. But, this is only an instance, how a natural disaster like earthquake can influence the health and wealth of persons with disability. If  this issue   had been taken seriously  before,   it can be  expected to have lesser casualties, death and  damage in the  properties of persons with disabilities  which is now counted to  exceed over   five  thousand under the direct   influence of the  earthquake and its shocks aftermath.
Natural and human-made disasters tend to have a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities. Different populations, when exposed to similar risks of environmental and human-made disasters, people with disability are more prone   to come under its influence, determined by a number of factors such as poverty, social status, geographical location and access to mitigation and relief resources.
This fact has been addressed by Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006, CRPD) in its article 11 which obligates States Parties to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of natural disasters. However, it has to be reck on, how prepared we were to face and respond during the situation of emergency. Most of us will definitely answer no in this regard. Though Nepal has remained as a state party to this convention but  there hasn’t been single step  to link disability with disaster and  develop any plan and policies  to safeguard people with  disability  during  the natural disaster and effort of linking disability with disaster has  rarely been seen  even in a disability community as well.
May be a drop in an ocean, since 2013, Nepal Association for the Welfare of the Blind in partnership with CBM has been lunching inclusive disability disaster risk reduction program in two of the V.D.Cs at Harisiddhi and Siddhipur.  These V.D.Cs do have disability risk management Committee formed, which  have  been collecting  minimum  contribution  per months from each of  their  members  so as to support the persons with disability victimized by the disaster.
NAWB at its central level does have an Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction Committee back up by rapid response guideline and a reserve fund of five hundred thousand. InFurthermore, NAWB has given disaster risk management training to ten of its self-help groups at Kaski, Kathmandu and Kailali.    But, it has to be assimilated, how effectively   those Committees functioned during the recent deadly earthquake. An experience shows that these Committees still need sufficient training on disaster preparedness, respond mechanism and building networking with other local disaster Committees. Moreover, each and every individual with disability also needs to be taught with several of disaster preparedness techniques such as mock drills, readiness of the assistive devices,   finding the safe place and conveying signals in case of emergency.
Disaster like   an earthquake may have different impact on different people with disability ranging from their capacity to rescue, extent of damage and seeking support services. Uddav Choulagain, a low vision guy from Dharke, Dhading was inside his house when the earthquake on 25th April shook his house. Every member of his house including his two years old son made a safe escape but he kept on searching the door of the house. Luckily, his house collapsed as soon as he managed to get out of it. He  became more  despair when he realized  that  his twenty chicken, four goats and  two buffaloes and all the grains  were  buried  inside the  heap of mud and stones of his collapsed house. He recalls,” During any disaster like earthquake we severely disabled persons are the most helpless and vulnerable as we don’t have any options rather than to wait our death”. He adds” the tension of making my family’s both ends meet is killing me inside. As a blind I can’t imagine to build a house like I had. My life is completely in limbo”.
The story of Raj bhai Maharjan, a totally blind guy from Khokana, Lalitpur is not less than Uddav’s story. He now lives with a pain of losing his house, mother and two of his darling daughters. He says,” as a parent, what else could be more painful than loosing   children   before   my eyes”. He regrets of being blind as he couldn’t save his daughters life. The real cause behind all these mishaps was due to his old ancestral house. It was compulsory for him to live in that house as he hadn’t have any other options and other thing was that he had never imagined that   this day of panic would come in his life because of his house. He with great reluctance uttered,” If I had been taught about the disaster in time, I wouldn’t have lived in this house very early”.
On the other hand, there are substantial number of people with disability who had not lost their properties but have bitter stories to share. Krishna Guising, a wheelchair user from Dolakha, was sleeping on   the bed and in the meantime earthquake occurred. With an attempt to run out of the room, he tried to reach his wheelchair but earthquake had thrown his wheelchair few feet away from his bed. Finally when he managed to mount on the wheelchair the shock of earthquake had already stopped. Based on that day’s incident, he opines” I had almost fore shaken my hope to survive. I had often heard about duck, hold and cover method to save oneself during the earthquake but my disability prevented me from applying that method in time. Later on, I didn’t think necessary to be done as earthquake had stopped giving its shocks. Still, my heart shakes with every aftershock”.
Krishna’s story entails the fact of subjecting people with disability to live with post traumatic stress which will of course negatively contribute in their overall development. UNICEF’s report  prevails that  that out of ten children   six live with   post traumatic stress and  the  case is more severe in  children with disability who struggled hard to  save their lives from  the  mouth  of death.
The second most important step   that is being done after the disasters like earthquake is the relief. Even in the relief phase, the people with disability have been devoid of getting it. The fact that many national and international agencies joined hand in providing humanitarian aid to the earthquake victims can’t be denied. However, the fair and equitable distribution of the relief has to be doubted. Ironically, it has been experienced; most of the relief providers love to visit easy and accessible places to distribute the relief. Some did it for fashion, some did it to take self p and upload in social media and some did it for cause. However, their relief couldn’t target the needy disabled as they failed in developing a picture that even within an earthquake victim, there could be people with disability who are in real need of humanitarian aid. Other reason behind   people with disability  being refrained from getting  the  relief  is especially in the rural areas where terrians are  undulating, people with disability have difficulties in reaching to the  relief  centers and relief  distributers never  considered important to  reach to their doors  and support them.  The case is not as easy as expected even   among the city dwelling people with disability as they have to struggle hard to intrude the crowd of able bodied people and get the relief.
“I lived in an open ground for three days after the earthquake till my neighbor let me share his tent that he got it from V.D.C. I had known that there has been a distribution of relief but because of my physical disability, relief centers almost became like a grape in a vine too difficult for me to reach,” expresses Rima B.K, a physically disabled girl from Selang V.D.C, Sindhupalanchowk. While sharing   a common tent, Rima equally lives with a fear of being    sexually abused.  This enlightens   that     there should  be  prior  orientation from  all relief providers to its field staffs and  equal  effort  is needed from disabled people’s Organizations to  aware and advocate  through media and  other channels to incorporate victimized  people with disability under their  relief  project.  And relief items have to be specified as per   the gender and   nature of disability.
Now, Nepal is in a process to resettle all its earthquake victim citizens. In some of the Districts, situation has   insisted to shift the whole village from one place to another. It can be known from the media that Government is seeking safer places for the resettlement but concern is there whether we have been successful in advocating for the disabled friendly locations. Since, a long time back, an issue of disabled friendly infrastructures has been a talk of the town among the disabled community and also in the policy making levels. But current occurance of deadly earthquake and assimilating its  fatalistic hit, necessitates  the need of  earthquake resistance disabled friendly infrastructures including   buildings., roads and public places so that no anyone   with  disability has to lose his  life for no reason. Nevertheless, disability issue has to be incorporated under the mainstream   national disaster planning and management strategy so as to exhibit sustainable impact in the well-being of people with disability.
Disaster is directly proportional to disability. It not only    expedites the number of disability population but also puts the lives of people with disability into the risk of death and casualties. However, little alertness, preparedness and collaboration can mitigate the potential risk of disaster. Meanwhile, only thing we need is a collaborative effort to console the languishing hearts.
Disaster like an earthquake always comes as a bolt from the blue with no prior signals or symptoms. But, it is imperative for all to keep the lace of the boots tied up to respond as soon as it happens. When it happens to the people with disability, the role of Disabled Peoples Organizations “DPOs” matters a lot from knocking the doors of Government, grantors, mobilizing the volunteers, monitoring the distribution of humanitarian aid   to sensitizing other relief workers. Though, this is the   subsequent procedures but it is imperative for all DPOs to take prior steps to mitigate the chances of disabled people coming under the effect of disaster and planning for future.
Taking the  initiative of NAWB, all DPOs can  form an inclusive  Disaster Risk Management Committee  within their central board  and disaster risk reduction ” IDRR” policy should be  formed and given equal  priority like  what is given to  financial, administrative, child and gender policies. Taking  earthquake 2015  and its devastating  consequence as an eye opener  why not to think of  having  at least of one disaster management  officer  within  national  DPOs and talk  the issue of disaster and its impact on people with disability in public forum ranging from a grassroots  to elite levels  and   advocate to  ensure representation of  people with disability in national and local  disaster management Committees. It’s sure that only our collective endeavor can ensure safety of all people with disability. Who knows! Our present little carelessness can make us panic harder than what we    are having meanwhile.
(The author is member- Inclusive Disaster Risk reduction Committee, NAWB)