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World Humanitarian Day: CBM calls for better inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian response

A young African boy holds by the hand and guides an African woman who carries a heavy load on her back
© CBM/argum/Einberger
A blind woman is guided by her son after having received food at a distribution site in Meru, Kenya, in November 2011

This year, the World Humanitarian Day will be marked in a context where armed conflicts and disasters such as earthquakes and food crises are causing an increase in the number of persons living with disabilities.
At the same time, there are often barriers that prevent persons with disabilities themselves from accessing the humanitarian relief provided by aid agencies, be they governmental or non-governmental, local or international.
CBM promotes a disability-inclusive approach to humanitarian response and has demonstrated through partnerships with ‘mainstream organisations’ that it could and should be a concern shared by every humanitarian stakeholder.

Persons with disabilities left out

‘The situation during the emergency was very bad, says Caroline Mukami of SPARK, a Kenyan organisation with which CBM partnered since last year to respond to the Horn of Africa food crisis. Children with disabilities suffered the most. When the relief food came from CBM, there was community targeting for the people who are most vulnerable. It was realised that the community didn’t even know that people with disabilities were there.’
This was no exception, as far as humanitarian responses go. Persons with disabilities who are among the most vulnerable groups in times of food insecurity and other emergencies are often hidden or left behind. Despite the humanitarian community’s genuine efforts, they and their families may not be able to access emergency response services made available by them due to difficulties in mobility, hearing, seeing and understanding. And this was recently acknowledged at a conference by Valerie Amos, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs: ‘People with disabilities are often the last to get the help they need during conflict and disasters.’

A moral and legal obligation to include them

‘We have a clear moral obligation to address this situation’, she said. But she also reminded the assistance that there now was also a legal obligation to do so. Persons with disabilities have a right to inclusion in emergency relief operations with their specific support requirements taken into account.
Indeed, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that entered into force in 2008 states in its Article 11 that ‘States Parties shall take (…) all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters‘.

CBM’s direct response to the Horn of Africa food crisis

Two African women decant grain from one nage to another ©CBM
370 tonnes of maize, 55 tonnes of beans and 18,500 litres of vegetable oil were distributed to more than 27,000 people by CBM and the Diocese of Meru in Kenya
CBM’s overarching priority in emergency situations is to make sure that aid reaches persons with disabilities. CBM provides immediate care together with its existing implementing partners in affected areas. For example this year, alongside the Diocese of Meru and its SPARK department, CBM has provided emergency food to 27,000 vulnerable people in regions of Kenya affected by the drought, with a special focus on persons with disabilities, children under five, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly and particularly poor households.
CBM partners have also been identifying people with disabilities and delivering assistive devices so that they can better access food distribution by other relief agencies. This was in particular the case in Kenya this year where about 500 mobility aids such as wheelchairs, tricycles and walkers produced by the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (ADPK) , have been delivered during the drought relief efforts.

Working together to mainstream disability in humanitarian response

a group a African people have a lively discussion in a warehouse full of food bags ©CBM
Focus group discussion with persons with hearing impairment organised by the Kenya Red Cross, APDK and CBM about the accessibility of humanitarian aid, Lodwar, Kenya, August 2012
For CBM reaching persons with disabilities directly together with its existing partners is crucial but at the same time, it is also essential to build new partnerships with powerful ‘mainstream’ aid actors to ensure they include persons with disabilities in their own emergency response to the crises.
NGOs such as the Kenya Red Cross Society, Merlin and Intermón Oxfam are mainstream organisations inasmuch as they have a broad mandate and target whole populations. The aim of the partnerships CBM has developed with them on the occasion of the Horn of Africa crisis is to ensure that persons with disabilities are identified by their teams as a vulnerable group and are included in all interventions during their emergency response.
These collaborations therefore allow many more persons with disabilities to be included and receive the vital help they and their families need. CBM working together with other large NGOs ensures the disability issues are taken into account both as a cross-cutting issue related to humanitarian response, but also, as it should be, as a human rights issue.

Related article

Humanitarian Action

CBM working with local partners to ensure that people with disabilities are included at all levels of disaster preparedness and response



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