Disability and Disasters

By Dr. Brent Elder

Central African Republic: Floods; 1,750 people affected (August, 2017)
Sierra Leone: Mudslides; 500 dead; 810 people missing; 5,900 lost homes (August, 2017)
Nigeria: Floods; 43,000 people displaced (August, 2017)
Belize Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico: Tropical Cyclone Franklin (August, 2017)
Cameroon: Flash Floods; 12,890 people affected (August, 2017)
Tunisia: Forest Fires; 500 people displaced (August, 2017)

The list above reads like a macabre CV. This list of natural disasters is from August 2017 alone, and does not include Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria, the earthquakes in Mexico, nor the other global disasters, natural or otherwise, happening right now.

Below is a world map of the current disasters being monitored by ReliefWeb[1] around the world.


Surviving a natural disaster is harrowing enough, but what happens with natural disasters intersect with poverty and disability? People with disabilities are among the most vulnerable when it comes to disasters. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNODRR), people with disabilities are more likely to be uneducated and live in poverty which decrease their access to disaster-related emergency information and increases their disaster risk. This translates into people with disabilities being at a higher risk of being left behind in disaster situations. If people with disabilities are able to flee, they are more than likely not going to have their needs fully met at inaccessible disaster relief shelters. If they are unable to seek shelter, they may then be exposed to other disabling factors like malnutrition, typhoid fever, cholera, leptospirosis and hepatitis A.

As noted by Marutama (2017)[2], ensuring the safety of people with disabilities during disasters is a key aspect of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Agenda.[3]  Including people with disabilities in discussions about such issues is critical to the development of disability-inclusive disaster reduction programs. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030[4] (also known as the “Sendai Framework”) is the first major agreement of the post-2015 United Nations development agenda. Though not legally binding, it acknowledges the State’s primary role in reducing disaster risk, and aims for the following outcome:

The substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.

To find out more about what you can do to help create more inclusive disaster relief efforts, please look at the following links:

[1] ReliefWeb: https://reliefweb.int/disasters?date=20170101-20180101#content

[2] Disability-Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction: http://www.aapd.com/disability-inclusive-disaster-risk-reduction/

[3] Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/

[4] Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-20130: http://www.unisdr.org/we/coordinate/sendai-framework