Natural Disasters and People with Disabilities

Natural Disasters and People with Disabilities

After the cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu, there were reports about the exclusion of some persons with disabilities (and also senior citizens) from receiving relief goods. Disability Promotion and Advocacy (DPA) Association in Vanuatu did an investigation and found that that a person who uses a wheelchair for mobility had to resort to using crutches during food distribution because the distribution area was not accessible to wheelchairs. Moreover, some persons with disabilities and senior citizens did not receive their food supplies because they weren’t able to reach the distribution center on time due to their impairments. Red Cross reported that a couple in South West Santo who were both persons with disabilities and whose home was burned down during the blue alert warning waited for some time for relief supplies. DPA Vanuatu projected that the failure to consider these groups might have resulted in the exclusion of at least 20 percent of the affected population in Vanuatu.

DPA member James Packet demonstrating some of the barriers to inclusion in the village of Sarakata, Luganville
DPA member James Packet demonstrating some of the barriers to inclusion in the village of Sarakata, Luganville

Attitudinal Barriers and Disaster

Attitudinal barriers constitute the biggest obstacles faced by people with disability in Vanuatu. Persons with disabilities are considered to have different rights from those of everyone else and are labelled by their impairments. They are seen in public places as strange people from another planet.

Even disaster relief workers have such attitudes that significantly affect the credibility and implementation of government initiatives on the ground for persons with disabilities. This was evident in the assessment conducted by the DPA Vanuatu after cyclone Pam mentioned above. The assessment indicated that in some areas people who were not quick enough to come forward when names were called for relief distribution were simply left out. There was neither a rechecking nor follow-up on listed people who failed to receive the relief goods. Thus persons with disabilities and senior citizens missed out on getting relief goods, as their impairments did not allow them to move fast to reach the distribution point on time. And those who had to endure the long queue despite physical difficulties (such as those using wheelchairs) were not given any chance to be served first, unless they requested to be given such treatment.

Hence, the question arises as to what happens to those who does not have the capacity to ask questions and are unaware of their rights; how would they receive such disaster relief supplies if their impairments limits them from standing in line or in some cases reaching distribution points? Most of them would be left out as they do not have the capacity to ask or to go past attitudes of those who are distributing the emergency supplies after the cyclone.

Therefore, there is a need for critical people such as those involved in disaster relief supplies distribution to receive disability awareness and inclusion training before they move out to carry out their various tasks and most importantly the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the planning, development and implementation of disaster responses is vital. Such training is vital as it will ensure that persons with disabilities live life normally on an equal basis with others and are not denied their human right to basic need.

Kaotem Mi Insaed – No livim eniwan bihaen

DPA has worked with the Pacific Disability Forum and other pacific nations to push for disability inclusive disaster risk planning and response.

Please download the poster or leaflet of this campaign for your use. The DPA can also arrange to send you copies by mail.

Download Poster: pdf-vanua-poster

Download Leaflet: pdf-vanuatu-flyer


Promoting an inclusive, barrier-free and rights-based society for people with disabilities