Global Humanitarian Crises:

How CBM Responds to the Needs of Persons with Disabilities

Roland Schlott, Head of the CBM Humanitarian Aid Team

Roland Schlott, Head of the CBM Humanitarian Aid Team
©CBM

From storms, floods and droughts to wars and forced displacement, the impact is acutely felt by vulnerable and marginalised people. Roland Schlott, Team Leader for Humanitarian Aid at CBM, talks about what we are doing to alleviate the suffering of people affected by these humanitarian crises, especially persons with disabilities.

What is your overall assessment of global humanitarian crises and emergencies today?

We are seeing more and more conflicts and disasters that have an enormous impact on the civilian population. The war in Ukraine is just the latest example in a long line of violent conflicts and forced displacement of people fleeing their areas of origin for safety.

Climate change and the increasing severity and frequency of natural phenomena, especially droughts in the Horn of Africa and floods in Asia, are also leading to more and more emergencies.

At CBM, we try to address the specific needs of persons with disabilities in these humanitarian crises by mainstreaming inclusion into humanitarian responses.

Who suffers the most in an emergency?

The weak and vulnerable in society suffer the most: these are those who have limited coping mechanisms, and who cannot run away when conflict is imminent - these are mainly persons with disabilities or those who care for them.

In Syria, we saw that the first people to leave the country used their own means to drive to the border and get to Europe. Now we see a similar situation in Ukraine. Those who have a higher level of resources can get to a safe place faster than the weak and those who have no means. So there are disproportionate impacts.

Natural disasters and drought are still imminent. Is there an end in sight to these crises?

What we see in northern Kenya, for example, is the degradation of the natural environment, climate change, population growth and the long-standing conflict between pastoralists and farmers in Turkana. I have personally observed this over the last 30 years since I first visited Kenya in 1992.

In the arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya, you see a commercial farmer drilling deeper and deeper into underground water reserves while other water sources accessible to the people dry up. People have no water and commercial farmers use this water to grow vegetables and flowers for export. Why should some people take more than their fair share while other sections of society do not even have the water they need to drink? This is inequality and injustice in society.

However, we can work towards diversifying income sources and empowering people to move up the value chain to prepare for these shocks. I believe that education is a life-changer. Girls' education enables income diversification and provides opportunities and resilience for families.

Where and what is CBM doing to respond to today's global humanitarian situations?

CBM's humanitarian work focuses on protracted, complex emergencies and displacement crises in Africa, Asia and now Ukraine.

In countries where our partners have long worked on eye health and disability inclusion, CBM has expanded its activities to include humanitarian aid. Our eye health partner in Cameroon, the Presbyterian Church, now provides physical rehabilitation for people injured in the conflict.

In the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, we are working with the Centre for Disability in Development to provide assistive devices, wheelchairs and physiotherapy for people who have suffered injuries during displacement.

Together with the alliance Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft, we have raised funds for Ukraine, some of which we are now using to fund the work of the European Disability Forum to meet the needs of persons with disabilities in this crisis.

We want to alleviate the immediate suffering and save lives to show prospects for a way out of the immediate crisis and into reconstruction. In doing so, we must of course adhere to the principles and standards of humanitarian engagement as set out by UN OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).

What role can development actors play in overcoming these recurring emergencies?

A significant number of the people we see in humanitarian need are conflict victims and forcibly displaced people. Their participation and inclusion in the development process at all levels is a critical element for the resilience of their communities and societies.

We need to strengthen non-violent communication through dialogue, peace and reconciliation platforms that would prevent conflict situations from escalating into active conflicts. To prevent natural disasters, we need to work on sustainable and resilient technologies that can be used by the whole community.

Do you think leaders are doing enough to respond to today's crises?

Doing enough is subjective. Is it a difficult time? Yes, but not enough is being done. We have many people living in abject poverty. People are not living full lives and life expectancy is decreasing in some situations. In many societies, the strongest members are leaving to seek opportunities. The rest of society, including the less dynamic, those with disabilities, the permanently ill, the elderly, widows and orphans who cannot cope with conditions, are left behind.

So much more needs to be done to improve the most difficult living conditions for many people.

What challenges make your work more difficult and how do you meet these challenges?

Humanitarian aid is a relatively new area of work for CBM and we are not present everywhere. If we want to meet the needs of persons with disabilities, we need to find suitable local humanitarian partners in many of the countries where we work and in areas where we are not present. It is important to be connected globally, but also locally through partners so that when a situation arises in a context where we are not present, we can work through partners and networks like the European Disability Forum.

You have been involved in humanitarian work for 30 years. What keeps you awake at night?

What keeps me awake at night is the fact that a part of humanity is indulging in luxuries that are not necessary, while millions of other people cannot meet their basic needs. It motivates me every day to make a small contribution to remedying this imbalance.

Describe today's disasters in three words.

They are complex and protracted. I would say that many humanitarian crises are man-made and cause suffering that is totally unacceptable, sometimes for a large share of a person's life.

Thirdly - and most importantly - we can make a difference. It will be difficult, but it is not impossible. However, if you want to help others, you have to be strong and competent yourself. You should never lose hope, otherwise, you cannot be the hope and light for others.