Goto main content

How climate change affects people with disabilities


Climate change exacerbates discrimination and affects the daily lives of people with disabilities in particular.

Nahy, 66 ans, s'occupe seule de ses enfants et petits-enfants, soit 16 personnes au total. Elle vit avec un handicap physique et est incapable de travailler. Avec la sécheresse persistante, les cultures ne poussent pas, ce qui rend la nourriture plus rare et plus chère. Sa famille n'a pas les moyens de nourrir tout le monde. HI fournit des provisions alimentaires chaque mois pour les aider à subvenir à leurs besoins

66 year old Nahy cares for her children and grandchildren alone, a total of 16 people. She lives with a physical disability and is unable to work. With the ongoing drought, crops fail to grow, making food more scarce and expensive. Her family cannot afford enough food to feed everyone. HI provides food provisions each month to help support them. | © / HI

On December 3, the Climate March will take place on the same day as the International Day of People with Disabilities. It's an opportunity to explain how climate change is adding to their daily challenges.

People with disabilities are 4 times more likely to die in the event of a disaster

Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather and climate events. Whether these are sudden and violent disasters such as cyclones and floods, or more gradual changes such as temperature rises and droughts, climate change is having a much greater impact on the daily lives of people with disabilities. They are up to four times more likely to die in disasters. There is an urgent need to reduce their vulnerability to disasters.

During a cyclone or flood, people with disabilities are still too often left behind, especially in communities where disability is still highly stigmatized. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), only one in four people with disabilities can easily follow evacuation instructions in the event of a disaster, and only 11% say they are aware of the existence of a disaster management plan in their community.

They do not have sufficient information about the risks associated with disasters and how to react to protect themselves.

"Whether it's general information to educate people about the risks, or emergency alerts, the challenge is to develop them in an accessible way so that as many people as possible can benefit from them. We can do this by varying the channels and methods of dissemination and taking into account a multitude of situations—people with reduced mobility, people with hearing or visual impairments, or those with psychosocial disabilities." — Jennifer M'Vouama, HI expert in Disaster Risk Reduction.

Many people do not evacuate their homes because they do not have access to warning messages in good time, or because evacuation procedures as a whole are inaccessible. They may therefore be left in place while the population is forced to evacuate.

More dangers during forced displacement

When people with disabilities manage to evacuate, they also face particular protection risks. They are more exposed to violence, exploitation and abuse in emergency shelters, or more generally in situations of forced displacement. Young women with disabilities, for example, are particularly at risk of gender-based violence.

In situations of forced displacement, people with disabilities also face numerous obstacles in accessing humanitarian aid. On this point, data from the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction is once again unequivocal: 75% of people with disabilities feel excluded from the humanitarian response.

They are often invisible and highly stigmatized, which makes it difficult for them to meet their basic needs, particularly in terms of healthcare and livelihoods.

Some people may lose access to their glasses or wheelchairs, making it even harder for them to find shelter, while others may be deprived of their essential medicines, putting their lives at greater risk. Finally, HI has also observed difficulties in accessing all basic needs, including water and food.

Well-being, health and livelihoods at risk

Other impacts of the climate crisis, such as heatwaves, are also exacerbating existing health inequalities.  In a report published in 2022, the World Health Organization warned of the major barriers disabled people face in accessing health care. According to scientific experts, people with disabilities around the world are three times more likely to be denied access to health care than people without disabilities. As a result, people with disabilities have an average life expectancy of 10 to 20 years less than non-disabled people.

"Climate injustice reflects inequalities in health. This means that marginalized groups, based on age, gender or disability, are doubly discriminated against and suffer disproportionately from the impact of climate on health and well-being." —Davide Ziveri, HI expert in environmental health

Climate change also has an impact on livelihoods. The economic losses generated by a climatic hazard are similar for all communities. But people with disabilities, who are generally more economically fragile, find it even more difficult to protect their livelihoods or recover from losses.

"People with disabilities tend to be socially excluded and discriminated against, leading to socio-economic inequalities. This often translates into higher poverty rates, lower levels of education and more difficult access to services in general. They will find it harder to bounce back in the event of a climate shock," Jennifer M'Vouama continues.

Anticipating impacts and preparing communities for risks

HI believes that it is essential to take action to protect people with disabilities from climate change, by giving communities the means to anticipate and prepare for the risks. To this end, the organization has set up around twenty disaster risk reduction projects in countries such as Madagascar, the Philippines, Mali and Nepal, which have been hard hit by climatic hazards.

The other challenge is to ensure that the voices of disabled people are heard in our efforts to tackle climate change:

"It is essential for HI to work hand in hand with organizations representing groups at risk, in particular organizations persons with disabilities, so that they can make a significant contribution to the public debate and decision-making processes on climate change, at all levels," concludes Jennifer M'Vouama.

Date published: 12/01/23


Where we work

Get the latest news about Humanity & Inclusion's work delivered straight to your inbox.