People with disabilities: a power for change not a burden

 
By Brigitte Leoni

BANGKOK, 20 September 2013 – Chaiyaphon Phupharat knows what he is talking about when he speaks about disability and how people living with disabilities are more vulnerable when disasters happen.

In 1995, when he was 33 years old, Mr Chaiyaphon was involved in a road accident and has been in a wheelchair since. The incident prompted him to join the Council of Persons with Disabilities in Thailand and he has since become the organisation’s director.

"When the floods happened in Thailand in 2011, we realized that disabled people had no access to information,” the 51-year-old Mr Chaiyaphon said. “They could not communicate with the emergency teams and were not able to evacuate on time if they were alone.

“The evacuation centres were too far away and even the stockpile of food and medicine were not reachable. They had to rely on the help of others to protect themselves and nothing was really in place for them to take care of themselves.”

This experience prompted Mr Chaiyaphon to link with the Royal Thai Armed forces, which have a leading role in disaster preparedness and response, to train officers to take care of people with disabilities as well as the elderly during disasters.

The programme started in 2012 in Thailand and Cambodia, which also suffered heavy floods in 2011. Initially, eight officers were trained and in 2013 another 14 officers were trained as the programme extended to South Korea. Mr Chaiyaphon expects that those trained will act as ‘multipliers’ and spread the message among their colleagues.

"The objective is to train emergency officers so that they are more mindful of people with disabilities when the next disasters happen and the officers can be prepared to take their needs into consideration,” said Mr Chaiyaphon.

“However, it is still a drop in the ocean as the task is immense. We need more awareness and more budget to do more.”

There is more than 6 million people living with disabilities in Thailand, of whom only one million are registered with the authorities.

Several NGOs in Asia are working together to form a network so the rights of disabled persons to access services in disaster situations are recognized as universal.

"The challenge is to get the government to take more action and integrate people with disabilities in the disaster management processes,” said Mr Chaiyaphon.

“People with disabilities should be part of the emergency committees and play a bigger role in national emergency and preparedness planning. They should guide and help identify the needs and not be seen as a burden.

“People with disabilities have a lot to contribute to the conversation and they are the best persons to know what they need.”

Thousands of people around the world are currently participating in the first-ever survey of people living with disabilities and disasters – organised by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and partners – to mark the 2013 International Day for Disaster Reduction on 13 October.

Have Your Say! If you’re living with a disability or you are a caregiver, take our survey and share your thoughts on living with disasters. The survey is available here in several languages.
Regional Platforms for Disaster Risk Reduction take place from Africa to the Pacific Regional Platforms for Disaster Risk Reduction take place from Africa to the Pacific.
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