Earthquake 2015 and its impact on disability
An eye opener for future.
Major 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)