Leaving no-one behind: Including a billion people to adapt to climate change

Creation date: 7 Dec 2018

UNDP and partners under the UN Climate Resilience Initiative A2R are developing a multi-country project focused on the needs of persons with disabilities to cope with climate change in Asia and the Pacific.

By Vasundhara Jolly, Climate Change Adaptation Consultant, Global Environmental Finance Unit, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub. December 8, 2018.

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 1 billion persons worldwide live with some form of disability.

The United Nations Secretary-General noted that ‘in many societies, persons with disabilities often end up disconnected, living in isolation and facing discrimination’.

When it comes to the impacts of climate change and disasters, we know persons with disabilities are disproportionately affected by extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change.

Persons with disabilities are between two to four times more likely to die in a disaster.

Persons with disabilities were 2.45 times more likely to have been injured during Tropical Cyclone Pam, which struck Vanuatu in 2015.

What accounts for this disparity? There are many factors, but we know that limited access to risk information, early warning messages, and transportation and emergency shelters – as well as a lack of meaningful participation in decision-making and constraints on physical movement – heighten a person’s vulnerability when disaster strikes.

Among persons with disabilities, intersectional discrimination is common, and greatly intensifies existing vulnerabilities. Women with disabilities confront additional discrimination, and often, gender-based violence. Being a member of a minority or indigenous group also magnifies a person’s vulnerabilities.

Making progress, but additional work is still required

International frameworks have increasingly recognised the equal rights of people with disabilities, such as via Article 11 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030) and in the Asia-Pacific region, the Incheon Strategy (2013-2022) to ‘Make the Right Real’ for persons with disabilities.

Yet challenges remain, including:

  • Under climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction frameworks, persons with disabilities are often referenced, if at all, only under the heading of ‘vulnerable groups’, with little attention given to the specific challenges they face; 
  • Inaccurate data on persons with disabilities in line with the Washington Group Set of Questions in censuses, and the stigma attached to reporting on disabilities. This impedes the implementation of effective measures.
  • Insufficient attention to the particular challenges faced by people with different types of disabilities. For example, inaccessible materials, incompatibility with assistive devices, and inadequate sign language vocabulary related to climate change adaptation, risks, impacts, and warnings.
  • Limited opportunities for persons with disabilities to participate in the design and implementation of climate change adaptation policy frameworks.
  • Broader challenges relating to cultural and religious stigma, stereotypes, and discrimination.


Building the resilience of persons with disabilities to cope with climate change in Asia and the Pacific

To address these gaps, UNDP has been working with partners such as the Global Resilience Partnership, UNEP, FAO, the Red Cross, and Columbia University under the umbrella of the UN Climate Resilience Initiative A2R to develop a project proposal for the Adaptation Fund; the concept was endorsed by the Adaptation Fund board in October 2018.

According to Pradeep Kurukulasuriya, Executive Coordinator (a.i.) of UNDP’s Global Environmental Finance Unit, an inspiring meeting with a deaf advocate from the Philippines at last year’s COP was yet another reminder of the urgent need for interventions targeting the needs of those with special needs.  He emphasises that we need to move beyond generalized tags such as ‘vulnerable people’ if meaningful action is to be affected and that partnerships are key: “Addressing the scale of the needs of people with disabilities will require partnerships.  Too much has been ignored for too long to be addressed by a few. The A2R partnership, involving both UN organizations, Private Sector, Academia, is an appropriate platform to champion this long-neglected need.”

So far, consultations and workshops to understand the unique needs of communities have been held with government bodies, NGOs, disabled people's organisations (DPOs), civil society, and academic institutions in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, and Thailand. An immense amount of work is already underway in these countries.

For example, in the Philippines, the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act recognises persons with disabilities as a subset of ‘vulnerable’ groups that must be considered in all its activities. In Nepal, the Local Adaptation Plans of Action Manual uses disability as one criterion in identifying climate vulnerable people. In Thailand, the Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) Master Plan covers inclusive disaster management responses for persons with disabilities.

A major focus of the project will be adapting early warning systems to the specific needs of persons with disabilities by supporting the development, replication, and scaling of innovative technological applications through private sector partnerships.

Activities will be tailored for each country, working with local and regional DPO partners to ensure stronger ownership by persons with disabilities. ‘Nothing about us, without us’ is a central tenet in shaping inclusive policies; it is impossible to design an effective adaptation framework without involving leaders of the communities, who often serve as the first point of contact for persons with disabilities and their caregivers.

Srilata Kammila, Head of Climate Change Adaptation at UNDP notes that UNDP’s adaptation portfolio focuses on addressing climate risks and impacts for the most vulnerable, marginalized people. “Persons with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to climate change, including extreme events. Through this project, working in close collaboration with local DPOs and other partners, we hope to elevate the advocacy and action to safeguard and improve the lives of people with disabilities against climate change”.

A full proposal is expected to be submitted to the Adaptation Fund in the second half of 2019. Looking to the future, the successes and lessons learnt from the pilot project will provide the basis for the eventual scaling up in other countries in Asia, and eventually Africa.

‘Leaving no one behind’ forms the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and this project aims to realise that promise by building the resilience of persons with disabilities to climate change’s impacts.  By building on the progress and momentum of the Paris Agreement, the NDCs, and the Sustainable Development Goals, the project represents an opportunity for the international community to truly leave no one behind.

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