Climate crisis policies must be inclusive

Lashari after presenting at a conference organized by the US Embassy in Pakistan
US Embassy
Lack of inclusive disaster response policies are leaving disabled people in Pakistan more vulnerable.

Disabled people are disproportionately affected by extreme weather events and climate disasters, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

Climate change’s impacts on Pakistan are already widespread and intense. Melting glaciers, heat waves, and a swarm of locusts are among the list of the climate-related disasters that the country has had to endure in the last couple of months alone.

Those who are at the highest risk during disasters - as they are across the world - are disabled people.

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A recent report - the result of a historic resolution adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2018 - examines the impacts of climate change on the rights of disabled people and makes recommendations about states’ human rights obligations in the context of climate action.

Needs

Abid Lashari, founder and president of the National Disability and Development Forum (NDDF) Pakistan, is on the forefront of making Pakistan’s response to climate change more inclusive to disabled people.

Lashari said: “During the super floods, I was encouraging the disaster response teams in my community to make their efforts more inclusive and to train people on the ground on the correct ways to rescue persons with disability in floods because it is not always exactly the same as rescuing a non-disabled person.

"But people would just laugh at me as if ensuring people with disabilities are also safely rescued was an absurd idea to them when they could barely rescue who they would call the ‘most-able’ people.”

Climate disasters, such as the 2010 floods that the UN rated as “the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history”, have become increasingly frequent in Pakistan in recent years and leaving already vulnerable communities significantly worse off - but not equally.

George Stacey, an analyst working with Norvergence, an environmental advocacy NGO, said: “Under most international climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction frameworks, persons with disabilities are often just referenced to under the heading of ‘vulnerable groups’ and little attention is given to their specific needs even though they are."

Implimentation

Disabled people are disproportionately affected by extreme weather events and climate disasters, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

They are also two to four times more likely to die in a disaster because of several factors such as limited access to risk information, the lack of transportation and emergency shelters that understand their specific needs, and the heightened vulnerability that constraints on physical movement can bring during a disaster.

Lashari also points out the lack of meaningful participation of disabled people in decision-making and creating disaster response management systems is why they are not inclusive or effective enough in assisting those with disabilities. 

Although an important first step was made when, in 2011, Pakistan ratified the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) bu the work is far from over.

Lashari said: “Initially, disability-inclusion was only just part of the paperwork - if at all - with little to no implementation. Implementation took a long time and there have been hits and misses but we have come a long way since 2010 - not only are emergency response systems more inclusively designed, there is more awareness in the community which has helped increase the capacity of many local NGOs.”

Conditions

However, the lack of accurate data on disabled people, partly due to stigma, makes creating and effectively implementing adaptation and mitigation plans for climate change even more challenging.

Lashari continued: “There are no official figures even though the Supreme Court ordered that the 2017 include the disability census but we can assume, based on WHO’s global estimates, that at least 2-4 percent of Pakistan’s population has some form of disabilities."

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 1 billion persons worldwide live with some form of disability - out of which nearly 200 million, between 2-4 percent of the world's population, experience considerable difficulties.

Lashari added: “And given that 75 percent of the Pakistanis live in rural communities, I would assume that most disabled people are also living in villages or farms where there is even less capacity or opportunity for climate adaptation than in urban centers."

Besides advocating for more inclusive disaster management, Lashari is also actively involved in capacity-building and more opportunities for those living in rural communities - especially people with disabilities - as climate change continues to impact and change their living conditions.

Work

Last year, NDF partnered with LEAD Pakistan, a non-profit pushing for sustainable development across Pakistan, and UK Aid a capacity-building project to support 100 Pakistani farmers adapt to changing climate through the use of alternate crops. 

Out of 100 farmers involved in the project, 13 had disabilities - most, who had formerly suffered from polio. Pakistan’s high rate of polio is one of the leading causes of paralysis in the arms and legs and vaccination is relatively less accessible in hard-to-reach rural areas.

Lashari explained: “Many people just assume that if someone has a disability, they cannot do any physical labor but this is not true. There are different types of disabilities and have different types of impacts on a person’s physical functions. And many disabled people can and do perform physical labor - especially in rural parts of Pakistan.”

The project’s focus to introduce alternative crops to farmers who typically harvest rice and cotton in September but severe flooding in the past three years had been wiping out these traditional cash crops.

Progress

The pilot project cost just $300 (US dollars) and successfully introduced alternative crops that could be harvested before the September floods. Cotton and rice are still grown, farmers are less dependent on them for their livelihoods and are now more resilient to floods.

Stacey said: “Projects like these are a great example of how to create inclusive efforts to tackle the impact of climate change on communities. International donors need to recognize that adaptation and mitigation are only truly successful if they help everyone in a community, especially the most vulnerable."

She adds that finance isn’t just necessary to cover the practical costs of adaptation but also for advocacy and education on inclusivity among local communities.

Currently, four districts of Pakistan are amongst the areas in focus on a multi-country proposal that is under development with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that addresses the concerns and challenges people with disabilities face under the context of climate change.

Lianchawii Chhakchhuak, from the Climate Change Adaptation Bangkok Regional Hub for the UNDP, said: “Though progress has been made by a number of countries to strengthen their resilience, many challenges still exist – planning and policies around climate change or disaster risk reduction do not sufficiently accommodate the voices and concerns of disabled people."  

This Author 

Rabiya Jaffery is a freelance journalist and multimedia producer covering stories from the Middle East and South Asia. She reports on climate, culture, and conflicts. She tweets at  .

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