2013 ‘ASEAN Day for Disaster Management’ showcases projects and responses focused on differently abled and other marginalized groups.
On 12th October 2013 in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Center (BACC), Sustainable Development Foundation (SDF) came together with a range of Thai and international NGO’s to raise awareness with the general public about the need for disaster management to take into account differently abled and disabled individuals.
Chanthamas Yaowalak, SDF’s Spatial Planning Specialist, was one of several staff who attended the day-long exhibit/fair. “The event brought a lot of knowledge to a lot of people because many families both local and foreign were passing by,” she said.
When the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami devastated many areas of Southeast Asia, the ASEAN Secretariat and the regional community deciding to start commemorating ADDM and the International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR). The theme of this year’s event – Innovating Together Towards a Safe ASEAN Community – looked at how differently abled people / people with disabilities are affected differently to the rest of the population before and after disasters occur.
Although SDF does not specialize in promoting justice and access for differently abled / disabled people, the organization does spend a lot of time working with vulnerable and marginalized groups, and understands very well that they are affected differently and disproportionately by disasters. Having worked closely with poor, resource dependent farmers and fishers, as well as underprivileged women and youth groups, SDF was able to share lessons about working with these marginalized groups whilst at the same time learning about the difficulties faced by differently abled / disabled groups.
“I participated in an activity where I wore glasses that impaired my vision. I had to thread small crystal stones onto a piece of rope,” Yaowalak said. “On top of that I had to wear thick gloves, making things even more difficult.”
Yaowalak participated in just one of the myriad games and activities being conducted by various organizations, all of whom are working to increase the public’s awareness and knowledge surrounding people with disabilities and the hardships the face when disasters occur.
Cultural and social stigmas can mean that people with disabilities are unable to access and participate in activities to strengthen knowledge and build capacity to respond to disasters. A poor understanding and a lack of analysis about the way society discriminates against differently abled people leaves them marginalized and vulnerable. Promoting more comprehensive and inclusive approaches and planning will help make disaster risk reduction more effective and ultimately save lives.
“We know that natural disasters and extreme weather events are going to increase as a result of global climate change, so it is imperative that we try to better understand how social and cultural factors like this work to make some groups more vulnerable than they really should be,” explained Yaowalak.
To make the ASEAN region safer and more disaster resilient, national bodies, local governments and communities themselves must consider how to incorporate and address the needs of marginalized and vulnerable groups. In the case of the differently abled / disabled, that might mean improving infrastructure to make it more appropriate to their specific needs, and training rescue dogs to be able to provide specialized assistance when disasters strike.
By Lean Deleon, Sustainable Development Foundation