People with disabilities, older people and indigenous communities are often excluded from disaster risk reduction strategies on preventing and responding to emergencies such as earthquakes and tsunamis. But by making some small adjustments—like adding subtitles or using contrasting colors on signage and informational materials—we can ensure no one is left behind when disaster strikes.
Kipu Llaxta, an organization in Peru that works to advance the inclusion of people with disabilities, is working with Humanity & Inclusion to improve a national disaster risk reduction campaign. Among the simple measures it recommends are:
- Include the organizations run by and for people with disabilities and their representatives in disseminating information through their networks
- Translate awareness-raising videos into sign language and add subtitles
- Increase the size of text on posters and fliers
- Use contrasting colors to enhance the legibility of information
- Use multiple formats: visual, audio, text and illustrations
- Disseminate communication campaigns on national media to reach the whole population
As a result of these recommendations, families and people with disabilities were noticeably more likely to take part in disaster risk reduction actions.
Bringing about lasting change
Psychologist Giovanna Osorio Romero, the chair and co-founder of Kipu Llaxta, has a physical disability caused by a rare disease.
“Kipu Llaxta decided to address the issue of disaster risk management in Peru to make it more inclusive," she explains. "With support from Humanity & Inclusion, we have trained ourselves in risk management and gained expertise."
"By making simple adjustments, Peru's 2021 communication campaign was much more accessible, and people were better able to understand prevention messages," Romero adds. "This proves that inclusion benefits society as a whole and not just a small group of people. We are working hard to bring about lasting change and to challenge stereotypes.”
Prevention measures and disaster response must take into account the specific needs of populations disproportionately affected by emergencies: people with disabilities, aging people, women, children. Humanity & Inclusion supports organizations run by and for people with disabilities—like Kipu Llaxta—to uplift their voices and ensure inclusive humanitarian action. The organization will draw attention to this commitment at the 2022 Global Disability Summit in February.
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.
Silver Spring, MD — Below is a statement on behalf of the 160 signatories to the Climate and Environment Charter for Humanitarian Organizations to the 26th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties, known as COP26:
“Today’s climate and environmental crises threaten the survival of humanity. All dimensions of our lives are affected, from our physical and mental health to our food, water and economic security. While the crises are impacting everyone, those who have contributed least to the problem are hit hardest – and it is only getting worse.” —Climate and Environment Charter for Humanitarian Organizations
The latest scientific evidence, including the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, reconfirms the truth of those these words. Our planet is in a period of accelerating climate and environmental crises, the effects of which are being felt by all of us. As humanitarian organizations we see this every day in our work.
As the world prepares to come together for COP26 in Glasgow this November, we urge negotiators to bear in mind the humanitarian consequences of their decisions. Climate-related disasters have nearly doubled in the past 20 years and weather-related hazards are now the number one driver of internal displacement, affecting most notably the poorest and most marginalized people.
The climate crisis is adding an additional layer of stress to humanitarian organizations that are already stretched thinner than ever before. Urgent and ambitious action is needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to rising risks, so that we can avert the most disastrous consequences on people and the environment. Without ambitious climate action, humanitarian organizations will struggle to respond to increasing needs.
Even in the best-case scenarios over the coming years, we know that a certain amount of climate change and environmental degradation is set to occur, and that their humanitarian consequences are likely to increase. We must consider individual characteristics such as age, gender, and legal status, as well as structural situations that affect people’s exposure to risk, to ensure that people who are most vulnerable to those consequences receive the support they need to protect themselves and their livelihoods.
When we signed the Charter, we committed to scale up our action, reduce risks and vulnerability, and support those most at risk. We pledged to act upon local leadership and experience, to invest in durable responses, and to draw on and amplify local and indigenous knowledge. We promised to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, minimize the damage we cause to the environment, and reduce our waste, and to share information, insights, and resources so that the impact of our efforts is amplified.
We know that radical transformation is needed. We are determined to act, urgently and intentionally, and we call on everyone, across the humanitarian sector and beyond, to do the same.
Signed by the Signatories to the Climate and Environment Charter for Humanitarian Organizations, including Humanity & Inclusion (HI) Federation.
The Charter is open for signature by all humanitarian organizations.
Information about the Charter and guidance on its implementation are available at www.climate-charter.org
Driven by climate change, the frequency and intensity of disasters from natural hazards is steadily increasing. Research shows that populations already facing difficult circumstances and low-income countries suffer the greatest consequences.
The rate of natural disaster occurrence is five times higher than it was 50 years ago. Between 1970 and 2019, more than 91% of deaths from over 11,000 disasters occurred in lower income countries. Droughts, storms, floods, and heat waves claimed the most human lives among natural hazards, with storms causing the most damage and economic loss.
“In the Philippines we see increasing and intensifying typhoons, storms and flooding,” explains Jennifer M’Vouama, Humanity & Inclusion’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation Policy Officer. “Cyclones are affecting new parts of Madagascar. In the Sahel, it’s longer episodes of drought, and floods and landslides in Latin America. Each context is different, but we are trying to have a better understanding of vulnerability. In many places, disasters from natural hazards mix with other factors like conflict or epidemics, so we need to consider how these events reinforce each other and increase vulnerability.”
People with disabilities at greater risk
During disasters, people with disabilities are at greater risk of mortality and difficulty, as they often face additional barriers. In the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the death rate among people with disabilities was two to four times higher than people without disabilities. In a 2013 global survey, only 20% of people with disabilities reported being able to evacuate without difficultly, and another 71% reported having no preparation plan for emergencies. Aging people and people with disabilities are often left out of contingency plans. As a result, they are left behind when disaster strikes.
Disasters often result in injuries that can lead to future disabilities. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti caused more than 200,000 severe injuries or disabilities, and the 2021 earthquake wounded another 12,000. Disaster can also wipe out livestock, destroy crops, and prevent economic activity, causing loss of livelihood and food insecurity. As the rate of occurrences increases, this means that each disaster puts more people at higher risk for future events.
Disaster risk reduction at work
While disasters caused by natural hazards are increasing, improved early warning and contingency plans have reduced the number of related deaths. Humanity & Inclusion operates 15 countries worldwide and collaborates with international organizations and local authorities to promote inclusion in the evolving global efforts to reduce risk.
“As a disaster risk reduction agent, Humanity & Inclusion helps communities anticipate the most serious meteorological episodes,” says Julien Fouilland, Humanity & Inclusion’s Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist. “Our first priority is to better prepare the more vulnerable populations for disaster by ensuring their meaningful participation and effective access during the planning stage.”
After initial risk assessments in each neighborhood, Humanity & Inclusion teams develop activities such as strengthening shelters and ensuring they are accessible, developing household emergency response plans, and developing tailored evacuation solutions for people with specific needs. Teams also work with farmers and local organizations to develop sustainable economic activities such as securing livestock and fishing boats, which are essential to many populations.
“Disasters do not affect everyone in the same way,” M’Vouama adds. “This depends on where we live, on our socio-economic background, our gender, our age, whether we have disabilities or not. It is essential that we take into account the differentiated impacts of disasters on people and consider the underlying factors that generate vulnerability.”
With natural disasters on the rise, communities worldwide face increasing danger. Jennifer M’Vouama, Humanity & Inclusion’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation Officer, explains the growing need for risk reduction and importance of inclusive emergency response:
Humanity & Inclusion's Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) team works with communities and individuals, among them people with disabilities, to build their resilience to disaster risks such as floods, cyclones, droughts or earthquakes. Our overall objective is to minimize the impact that these disasters can have on their lives and livelihoods, and to promote coping mechanisms that support recovery. We help them identify and analyze the impacts that these disasters can have on their lives, their livelihoods, habitats and on their well-being. Then, we help them develop risk mitigation and emergency preparedness plans that will protect them against the worst impacts of disaster.
How DRR fits into HI’s mission
Humanity & Inclusion’s mandate is really to work alongside most at risk populations and groups, including people with disabilities, to respond to their essential needs and promote their rights in situations of poverty, conflict and disaster. People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable in the event of a disaster. For example, an older woman with reduced mobility will very concretely face difficulties to evacuate an area that may be subject to flooding, or an area that will be impacted by a cyclone or a hurricane. This person will need support and specific assistance to evacuate their home and reach a shelter in a secure location where humanitarian assistance will be provided. Too often, we see that people with disabilities are not sufficiently supported. They tend to be excluded from relief efforts, and as a result are left behind when a disaster occurs.
DRR in action
On the ground, our disaster risk reduction efforts are focused on key activities including risk prevention, risk mitigation, disaster preparedness and early action activities. To mitigate risks, we contribute to strengthening houses and community infrastructure to make them more resistant to shocks. We also conduct inclusive risk awareness activities within the community to ensure that all community members are appropriately informed. In terms of disaster preparedness, we develop contingency plans with the community to organize their resources. We help establish stocks with first aid materials and mobility aids to facilitate evacuations. We identify safe evacuation routes for the population and collective shelters, and ensure they are accessible. When a disaster strikes, we can support pre-emptive evacuation of people and their assets. Finally, we conduct simulation exercises to test everything and continuously improve our approaches.
The role of climate change
One of the most visible consequences of climate change is the increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather and climate events. Floods, heat waves, cyclones, all these elements are much more frequent, intense, and much more violent. For the populations that we accompany in the world that are already vulnerable to poverty and exclusion, this means increased vulnerabilities and additional difficulties to achieve sustainable development.
Bringing inclusion to the global response
Humanity & Inclusion works in partnership with several technical, financial and institutional partners within the framework of these activities. For instance, we very often assist NGO partners in their disaster risk reduction actions, by bringing our expertise in terms of inclusion and analysis of vulnerability to disasters. Humanity & Inclusion has a unique capacity to analyze the differentiated impacts that a disaster will have on an individual according to various factors such as disability, gender, age, ethnicity, etc. Not everyone experiences a disaster in the same way, so the responses must be adapted and take these differences into account.
For the past 15 years, Humanity & Inclusion has been working around the world to help communities prepare for disaster and emergency situations. Our teams have seen first-hand how an increase in extreme and destructive weather events linked to climate change is affecting people with disabilities and vulnerable populations.
A growing threat
Humanity & Inclusion is acting in response to a rise in severe weather disasters and chronic climate emergencies. Between 2007 and 2017, an average of 60 more climate-related disasters per year occurred worldwide, compared to the previous decade. This is one of the reasons why HI has recognized the severe weather linked to climate change as a compelling and growing threat to the prosperity of our beneficiaries and exposed groups around the world.
Many research studies reveal that climate change has an indirect but severe consequence on vulnerable groups ranging from armed violence to food insecurity, water scarcity, mass migrations, and loss of livelihoods .
Although increased exposure to climate change affects everyone, severe weather has a disproportionate impact on defenseless population, especially on people with disabilities.
In addition to the immediate impact of unforeseen outset emergencies on all the population groups, people with disabilities are notably affected by natural hazards as they are more likely to live in poor and risk-prone areas and are frequently excluded from emergency preparedness plans.
Data from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) demonstrates just how isolated and at risk they may be in the event of a disaster. Globally, one of five persons with disabilities is in the position to evacuate without difficulties in the event of a disaster. Only 17% of people with disabilities are aware of a disaster management plan in their community, and following a disaster, 75% of people with disabilities believe that they are excluded from the humanitarian response.
Proper preparedness can save lives
In the photo above, located in a remote commune of northwest Haiti, volunteers in orange vests carry a woman on a stretcher down a rocky hillside. Fortunately, this is only a drill. The volunteers are testing emergency preparation measures and procedures they have installed to ensure that every member of their community can reach to a safe place in the event of a natural disaster. The entire municipality is being evacuated.
Thanks to a collaborative project run by Humanity & Inclusion and civil protection services, participants know how to provide information, warnings and assistance in an event of inevitable exposure for people with disabilities, children, and older individuals. Places of safety have been prepared in advance which are accessible to everyone. In a poor and isolated area of this disaster-prone country, these preparations offer the best chance of survival to the disproportionate groups.
About HI’s Disaster Risk Reduction work
- HI has been implementing Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation activities for 15 years
- We are currently running 20 DRR projects in 16 countries
- HI helps other DRR actors to be inclusive of people with disabilities and vulnerable individuals
 Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters
 HI, Disability and Climate-Change: How climate-related hazards increases vulnerabilities among the most at risk populations and the necessary convergence of inclusive disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, 2018
When floods, storms, and droughts strike, people are forced to flee their homes, putting them in danger's path. For people with disabilities, the consequences can be deadly. It is crucial that local people and humanitarian agencies, like HI, are trained directly in case of a natural disaster. Being more prepared for such events would save lives.
Humanity & Inclusion's teams are working to ensure that people with disabilities and vulnerable individuals are not forgotten when disasters strike through our Ready for Action (REACT) project. Launched in 2016, the goal of REACT is to enhance HI's capacity to respond to emergencies in a timely and effective manner.
Last month, two staff members from Humanity & Inclusion's headquarters in Lyon traveled to Bangladesh, a country vulnerable to natural and man-made hazards, for an emergency preparedness workshop with our local team. Together, our staff created an emergency response plan, and a plan to reinforce their emergency operations and support preparedness capacities. Outcomes included the previously-mentioned action plan, mapping of resources, and lessons-learned, as well as technical measures in case of emergencies.
Thanks to this vital collaboration, our team can share this life-saving knowledge with the local people, so they too can be ready for action!
Photo: Bhabani Rout, 45, who wears a prosthetic leg, leads an early warning mock drill in India.
Preparing for an emergency
Emergency preparedness is a long-term process that requires dedicated time and resources, but it can also help improve the relevance and reach of Humanity & Inclusion's operations. Outcomes include:
- Strengthened hazard monitoring and early warning capacities and processes in the field and at HQ
- Increased capacity to assess emergency needs
- Strengthened capacity to implement emergency response activities
- Strengthened supply chain, including contingency stock measures
- Integration of emergency preparedness and response into strategic programming
- Strengthened external coordination with INGOs, UN agencies and donors and strategic positioning
- Increased ability to anticipate emergency funding needs and to access emergency funds
How does the Ready for Action (REACT) project work?
The Emergency Division supports programs in the project implementation. Services include:
- Capacity building on emergency response through capacity diagnoses and simulation exercises
- Facilitation of workshops to launch the preparedness process and help teams develop an EPR Plan
- Operational support to HQ and field teams in the response to emergencies and EPR plan follow-up
The projects targets HQ and field teams, with a focus on contexts that are most vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters. It also targets local partners, particularly in contexts where Humanity & Inclusion may respond to emergencies by working through local NGOs. The process involves all departments, including management, programming, technical, logistics, finance, HR and security teams, both at HQ and field levels.
Download the Report:
This policy paper defines the themes of inclusive disaster risk reduction and explains how these activities fit into our mandate. It also identifies the target population and defines modalities of intervention–standard expected outcomes, standard activities–as well as monitoring and evaluation indicators.Sign up