Unfolding Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction: “Divyang”

By: Prof. Santosh Kumar

NEW DELHI: During the last week NIDM along with Society for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies, Gujarat Institute of Disaster Management (GIDM) and had organized a two day (11-12 July, 2019) national workshop on “Disability and Disaster Risk Reduction” We discussed meaning of inclusiveness and also tried to understand that so far interventions made in the country are based on “inclusiveness” or unintended “exclusiveness”. 

Disasters have been creating differential impact on various segments of people. Vulnerabilities of people are not homogeneous. Different people have differential vulnerabilities. People are not homogeneous and hence their impacts are. Poorest of the poor takes the maximum brunt of disaster than the better off because of their level of capacity and resilience. It is said rather established also that the climate change has made it even worse. Intensity and frequency of hydro-meteorological disasters (flood, cyclone, drought, heat wave, cold wave etc) have multiplied manifold. Irony of the situation is that those who are contributing least in changing climate/carbon emission are facing the maximum brunt. The rich are blissfully ignorant as what their life styles have made the impact on poor.

Article14-18 of Indian constitution talks about the fundamental rights where people have been given rights for quality of life with dignity. All these right are bestowed as individual rights rather than the community or families. These rights are further re-enforced as Human Rights. Duty of the governance is to enforce the spirit of the constitution.

Victims of disaster are counted by the governance in two categories (i) number of deaths and (ii) number of affected people, other than the economic losses. Questions are now being raised whether deaths could have been prevented or not? Now, policy is focusing on minimizing the number of casualties and affected people. Regarding affected people, complexities are much more. If we look at the disaster survivor’s lives and livelihood, long term recovery, rehabilitation and rebuilding lives related issues, despite of best of intentions and efforts, it seems we have not been able to achieve the desired objectives. There are still some gaps between policy intent and actual position. 

Out of many, if I take just one issue of vulnerability of people of disability – both disability in general and disability due to disaster impact (imputation, cervical injury, mental illness, spinal injury, visual and hearing impaired etc) is much higher than others. Vulnerabilities get further multiplied if the affected are women, children and aged citizens. After listening to the victims in person during the workshop and reviewing of literature, it is obvious that the methodology of risk assessment has to be revisited, as it has never highlighted this as a specific issue. Vulnerabilities depend on exposure of risk and capacity to bounce back. People with disability have the 100 percent probability of getting affected in case of disasters. Despite this understanding, interventions designed for evacuation, accessibility to facilities, relief campus, sanitation facilities, and design of toilets etc. are not conducive for them to use. Privacy for women with disabilities is not adequately addressed.

As per Census of 2011, In India out of the 121 Cr population, 2.68 Cr persons are ‘disabled’ which is 2.21% of the total population. Among the disabled population 56% (1.5 Cr) are males and 44% (1.18 Cr) are females. In the total population, the male and female population is 51% and 49% respectively.  Majority (69%) of the disabled population resided in rural areas (1.86 Cr disabled persons in rural areas and 0.81 Cr in urban areas). In the case of total population also, 69% are from rural areas while the remaining 31% resided in urban areas. 

Swati (name changed), a survivor of Gujarat earthquake mentioned that she became handicapped after the impact of earthquake but her life on many occasions faced much more pain due to social attitude towards disability rather than the pains she had due to her injuries during the earthquake. The attitude of the society is highly ability biased (in favor of physically able people) than compassionate towards disabilities. “We are marginalized at every stage of life because of our so called disability. Our accessibility and opportunities are not addressed adequately. She mentioned that due to her disability whole family got badly affected as she had go far specialized surgery in Mumbai, which cost them a huge sum of money. Family was in great distress –psychologically, economically, emotionally and socially. Her marriage that was scheduled for March 2001 got cancelled as the boy she was to marry simply walked out after knowing about her earthquake induced disability. This shows the inherent gender biasness of the society further aggravates the misery of the victims. 

At the global level, Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said, Policy makers must heed the “voices of those who suffer disproportionately in such events. People living with disabilities, older persons, women, children and indigenous groups need to be consulted and engaged.

If I may conclude by saying that, Society is not complete, if it continues with so much of inherent biasness and exclusive approach. It reflects on our sensitivity, culture, education, philosophy, governance, maturity and compassion. Disaster risk reduction policy, programmes, and strategies, research & development, capacity building programmes of NIDM and other stakeholders require serious introspection. Impetus on inclusiveness is inevitable and has to be addressed holistically. Band-Aid approach will not take us anywhere. The term “Divyang” coined by Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the people with special abilities will not suffice unless our interventions are based on gender sensitive policies with inclusiveness in true sense and spirit.

Prof. Santosh Kumar PhD is Professor & Head of Governance, Policy Planning & Inclusive DRR, National Institute of Disaster Management under the Ministry o Home Affairs, Got. of India. Formerly, he was director, SAARC Disaster Management Centre; Executive Director (I/C), NIDM, MHA; Disaster Management Specialist, The World Bank. Views expressed in this article is his personal. The author may be reached at profsantosh@gmail.com

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