In the Philippines, frequent natural disasters have serious consequences for people with disabilities. Humanity & Inclusion works closely with affected communities to ensure inclusive disaster preparation.
Located in the North Pacific typhoon belt and the Pacific Ring of Fire, the country experiences frequent cyclones, volcanic activity and earthquakes, putting its more than 100,000,000 residents at risk.
“Persons with disabilities are invisible during crisis events in the Philippines, whether caused by cyclones, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or COVID-19,” explains Carissa Galla, Humanity & Inclusion’s Disaster Risk Reduction Technical Specialist for the region. “How many people with disabilities are affected? How many can access humanitarian assistance? How many receive warning information and can evacuate safely? This information is rarely collected, so the needs are not considered. We need to work with persons with disabilities and their organizations to ensure that no one is invisible during emergencies.”
In the event of disaster, people with disabilities are up to four times more likely to lose their lives than those without disabilities. They are often left out of disaster preparedness planning, resulting in accessibility barriers and a lack of adapted emergency resources.
Humanity & Inclusion operates inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) projects in 15 countries, including the Philippines: one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world.
Empowering local leaders
In the Philippines, Humanity & Inclusion teams are working to reduce the vulnerability of 32 barangays—small administrative districts—devastated by Typhoon Ompong in 2018, and to prepare for disaster risks by enhancing the meaningful, inclusive participation of civil societies in disaster and climate risk governance.
Project EMPOWER, funded by the European Union and operated by Humanity & Inclusion in partnership with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, aims to:
- Develop preparedness plans in 3,000 households
- Distribute 26 inclusive early warning kits to communities including items such as megaphones, whistles, bells, and visual devices such as color-coded flags, communication cards, reflective vests, ponchos, LED flashlights, solar panels, headlamps, and transistor radios
- Remove barriers for aging people, people with disabilities, children and women in DRR actions
- Increase the number of women leaders and active members of disaster and climate risk governance structures by more than 500
- Increase community organization-led climate risk initiatives by 80%
- Improve municipality contingency plans and implement 26 climate risk help desks
- Conduct and create modules for inclusive DRR training for organizations and policymakers
- Host gender, age and disability sensitivity workshops and simulation exercises
- Collect data regarding gender, age, disability, risks and resources.
Uplifting voices of impacted people
“When Typhoon Ompong hit our municipality and killed 94 people, I realized the importance of citizens' participation in risk governance,” says Avelino Tomas, Regional President of the Organization of People with Disabilities. “Persons with disabilities are capable of taking control of their lives and safety. We must allow them to participate and contribute to disaster and climate risk governance."
Not only must we include their needs in disaster risk reduction efforts, we must ensure that people with disabilities are active contributors to the response. According to a UN 2013 survey, 50% of people with disabilities said they wished to participate in disaster risk reduction efforts, but only 17% were aware of any plans in their community.
Many authorities focus on what people with disabilities cannot do while ignoring their expertise and capability to lead initiatives. In the Philippines and elsewhere, misconceptions and barriers to participation give people the false impression that people with disabilities can only be passive recipients of assistance. Surveys revealed that many in the community perceived these individuals as “victims,” “fragile,” or “burdens” in a disaster scenario.
Carmela Penchon, Secretary of the Federation of Persons with Disabilities in Itogen shared that as a woman with a disability, she felt unable to actively contribute to climate governance policies. After attending a Humanity & Inclusion awareness session on disability, gender and age sensitivity, she has become an outspoken and active advocate, championing ways to protect her community and lead DRR and climate change management initiatives.
Global climate change conference
Humanity & Inclusion is attending COP26, the UN’s Climate Change Conference, in Glasgow, Scotland, to advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities in disaster risk reduction and climate change governance around the world. Over a billion people are concerned by inclusive risk reduction planning and climate action, and it is no longer acceptable for policymakers to exclude people with disabilities from response efforts.