By Ronald Jackson, Head of the UNDP Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery for Building Resilience Team

More than 1 billion people in the world live with a disability, and they are often more vulnerable to the effects of disasters. However, people with disability are often left out of disaster risk management planning. For example, these stairs in Papua New Guinea, designed for villagers to escape an approaching Tsunami, could be difficult to negotiate unassisted for anyone with mobility issues. (Photo credits: UNDP Papua New Guinea)

With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Member States of the UN pledged to “leave no one behind,” and this includes people with disabilities. However, today, people with disabilities, who represent 15 percent of the world’s population, are disproportionately impacted by disasters, conflict, and humanitarian crises. Often already more vulnerable to poverty and exclusion even before a crisis hits, they may also be more likely to be victims, are often less able to evacuate or escape out of harms’ way, and may be more likely to have their livelihoods threatened or poverty exacerbated following a catastrophe.

Yet the inclusion of people with disabilities in crises planning and response remains under-prioritized. So how can we do better to ensure that no one is truly left behind? What innovative solutions and partnerships already exist for disability inclusion? And what next-generation, cutting-edge possibilities are on the horizon – especially with the increasing impact of climate change, biological and man-made hazards?

Looking back, moving forward

Three years ago, at the Global Disability Summit, Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, said that at UNDP, we “firmly believe that to achieve progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, disability-inclusion cannot be approached as a standalone issue, but rather needs to be promoted across all policies and programmes.”

He also highlighted some examples of good work that has already been done in this field, such as supporting the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, developing inclusive legal frameworks and policies in places such as Albania and Liberia, and innovative efforts to ensure equal access to life-saving emergency services in Georgia.

Today, there are many innovative solutions on the horizon that continue on from these successes. For instance, under the Digital Transformation for Resilience (DX4Resilience) project, UNDP has conducted vulnerability mapping and analysis in the Philippines and Sri Lanka, engaging people with disabilities, NGOs, government and other members of the community to better understand where they are most at risk and working with them to create innovative solutions. In Indonesia, UNDP and Indonesia’s national disaster management agency are co-hosting a Hackathon to make the national digital geospatial platform, InaRISK, accessible for at-risk communities. This will help people with disabilities and other marginalized groups safely evacuate during a disaster.

Humble yet committed

UNDP is committed to helping governments and partners to adapt and be more resilient in a complex and uncertain world. However, we do so from a position of humility, knowing well that we don’t have all the answers yet. Persons with disabilities and their representative organizations are therefore critical in the assessment of disaster risk and in designing and implementing risk reduction measures tailored to their specific requirements.

UNDP promotes the active involvement of those with disabilities and their representative organizations as co-creators and partners in all development initiatives (and not simply as beneficiaries). We are addressing the barriers to inclusion and the root causes of vulnerability, discrimination and exclusion, as these are key to ensuring an enabling environment to achieve sustainable and resilient development. At the same time, our disaster risk reduction and recovery programme is in line with the goals and targets of the SDGs and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which clearly recognizes that disability puts people at disproportionate risk from natural hazards. And by implementing the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, UNDP commits itself to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

UNDP is committed to helping governments and partners to adapt and be more resilient in a complex and uncertain world. (Photo credits: UNDP Kenya)

The opportunity for transformation

UNDP has an opportunity to support the effective participation of persons with disabilities in decision making and implementation of disaster risk reduction and recovery interventions, including early warning systems, information sharing mechanisms, preparedness and response plans.

If you have seen the front page of the newly redesigned UNDP website, you may have noticed that we are in the midst of a “Great Transformation” – literally and figuratively. We are experiencing radical uncertainty and a planetary crisis, yet we are still working from an old playbook. Twenty-first Century problems cannot be tackled with 20th Century solutions. And while technology alone cannot solve everything, innovative and inclusive solutions – be they by and for people with disabilities facing disaster threats or any other disproportionately affected group – are imperative. While the future may indeed be uncertain, there is certainty that advancing sustainable and people-centered development pathways must be an inclusive agenda.