United Nations And People with Disabilities in Disasters and Emergency Situations

March 21, 2011

Today, the world is watching disaster relief efforts in Japan.  A year ago, the world watched similar efforts in Haiti.  In 2005 it was hurricane Katrine in New Orleans, and in 2004 it was a catastrophic tsunami in Indonesia.

The United Nations reminds us that one common and distressing thread that connects most disasters together is that, frequently, people with disabilities are left behind.  Although everyone is harmed by the disruption to social and environmental support systems that occurs after a disaster, these disruptions often have a more significant affect on people with disabilities.  Yet they are more likely to be abandoned during and after disasters due to lack of planning or inaccessible services.  Shelters and refugee camps sometimes turn away people with disabilities because it may be assumed that they necessarily need "complex" medical services.  Long-term recovery efforts also frequently miss opportunities to rebuild infrastructure without the accessibility barriers that block the use and participation of people with disabilities.

The United Nations has posted an overview of these challenges, entitled "Disability, Natural Disasters and Emergency Situations."  Their overview also discusses obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for countries that have ratified it.  Originally published subsequent to the Haiti earthquake in January 2010, it is still relevant today.  Read the full text at: