Humanitarian Action

There are an estimated 3.5 million refugees and internally displaced people living with a disability worldwide. For every one person killed in a disaster, another three are injured or left with a permanent disability, and many face long-term psychosocial impairments. Despite this, persons with disabilities are often invisible and excluded during times of disasters and humanitarian emergencies. More often than not, they face difficulties in accessing emergency support and essential services such as food distribution, medical care, shelter and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) requires in Article 11 that States ensure plans for disaster preparedness and response are inclusive of, and accessible to, persons with disabilities. In particular, the UNCRPD highlights the importance of disability inclusive disaster management through international cooperation.

Resources in this section focus on how to ensure persons with disabilities access their right to inclusion in emergency responses. They include position papers, policy and practical guidance and case studies on inclusive disaster risk reduction and humanitarian practices.

See also: Fragile States and conflict affected areas, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Phillip Sheppard and Sarah Polack, International Centre for Evidence in Disability at London School Missing Million: How older people with disabilities are excluded from humanitarian response

Up to 14 million older people with disabilities may be affected by humanitarian disasters. These people are among those most at risk, yet little is known about their particular experiences. Their rights and needs are widely overlooked in humanitarian response. The aim of this study was to explore the experiences of older people with disabilities across a range of humanitarian settings.

Amnesty International (2019) Myanmar: “Fleeing my whole life”: older people’s experience of conflict and displacement in Myanmar.

This report examines older people’s experience of conflict and oppression in Myanmar. The report also analyses how and why humanitarian assistance has failed to meet many older people’s rights and needs, including related to health, sanitation, food, water, and participation. Accountability for the Myanmar military’s atrocities should include a focus on the specific crimes committed against older women and men, and draw on older people’s unique communal knowledge and memory. For their part, donor governments, UN agencies, and humanitarian organisations must better ensure that assistance is inclusive, non-discriminatory, and respects older people’s rights, including to dignity.

International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), CBM and Handicap International (2015) All under one roof: Disability-inclusive shelter and settlements in emergencies

'All Under One Roof' is a practical toolkit to assist donors, governments and humanitarian agencies to make shelters and temporary settlements fully accessible for people with disabilities affected by humanitarian emergencies. It contains practical checklists; universal design guidance; suggestions on how to improve the participation of people with disabilities within the design and planning of shelter options; case studies and lots of further resources. As well as being useful for the shelter sector, this toolkit has a lot of general advice on disability inclusion within humanitarian programs.

UNICEF (2017) Including children with disabilities in humanitarian action: General guidance

UNICEF, together with Handicap International, developed new guidance consisting of this General guidance document plus sector specific booklets. The booklets give practical examples (based on literature as well as UNICEF field staff experiences) and checklists of how to include children and adolescents with dis¬abilities across various humanitarian contexts (rapid-onset disasters, slow-onset disasters, health emergencies, forced displacement, and armed conflict).

Human Rights Watch; 2017 Greece: Refugees with Disabilities Overlooked, Underserved

An article on the existing situation of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in Greece camps, which contains snippets from interviews conducted through four months of winter. Interviews were conducted with refugees, UNCHR officials, camp managers and representatives from aid organisations. This article covers the lack of identification of people with disabilities and the lack of services. Services such as psychosocial, mobility and other medical were non-existent or inaccessible despite the amount of money being provided by the European Commission and the EU. There is also a distinct lack of accessibility around the camp including in the Water Sanitation and Hygiene areas. Extreme temperatures and inappropriate housing are increasing the rates of mental distress and psychosocial disabilities. This article can further develop our understanding of the challenges that exist in a refugee camp and recognising the need to ensure that camps are safe and accessible.

World Humanitarian Summit (2016) Charter on inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action

This charter sets out five core principles required in order to make humanitarian actions more inclusive of persons with disabilities. These include: 1. Ensuring non-discrimination 2. Fostering participation of persons with disabilities 3. Developing inclusive policies and guidelines 4. Fostering an inclusive response and services 5. Improving cooperation and coordination among humanitarian actors The charter serves as a guide to the design and appraisal of disability inclusive policies and actions relating to all phases of humanitarian action. The charter was developed by over 70 humanitarian stakeholders including states, UN agencies, NGOs and organisations of persons with disabilities, and was launched at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in 2016. It has since been endorsed by over 100 states and other stakeholders, including Australia.

UN Human Rights Council (2016) Human Rights Council Resolution: The rights of persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies

This Resolution calls on governments and other humanitarian actors to take effective measures to ensure protection and participation of persons with disabilities at all stages of situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and natural disaster. In particular, it serves as a useful reference point on the high-level principles that should be followed when implementing Article 11 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Inter-Agency Steering Committee (2007) IASC guidelines on mental health and psychosocial support in emergency settings

These guidelines outline the mental health and psychosocial impacts of emergencies and provide recommendations for entry points for addressing the needs and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. This information will be beneficial for both donors, policy and program staff as a guide for recommendations across all of the key sectors in emergency settings, including education, community mobilisation and support, health services and emergency shelters.

UNHCR (2011) Working with persons with disabilities in forced displacement

This guidance note can be utilised by program implementers to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are met without discrimination. This note provides both donors and program staff with guidance on a range of issues to consider in meeting these responsibilities. The resource includes key considerations and for each, a list of succinct recommended practical actions. This guidance note will need to be further supplemented with practical resources to guide program implementers with strategies to make the recommendations a reality.

Humanity & Inclusion Source: Key list resources on Disability and Humanitarian

This key list presents information about the inclusion of people with disabilities in humanitarian response, disaster risk management and post-conflict settings. The resources featured include general information, regional and national case studies, program guidance and training manuals covering emergencies, displacement, protection, victim assistance and climate change and disability. This is a very broad topic area and also includes resources addressing a range of topic areas in emergencies (including health, mental health and psychosocial support, functional rehabilitation, education, livelihoods, social inclusion).

Light for the World (2013) All Inclusive! How to include people with disabilities in humanitarian action

This operational guide is designed for development programs in the DRR sector. Aimed at programming staff, it provides strategies for the inclusion of persons with disabilities and outlines minimum standards specific to prevention and preparedness, rescue and response, recovery and reconstruction. The case studies and practical checklists are valuable for both policy makers and program staff.

Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, (2009) Education in emergencies: Including everyone. INEE pocket guide to inclusive education

This guide focuses on rapid onset emergency response, but is also relevant to all emergency settings and phases. It is a practical resource for governments, donors and implementing partners to inform policy development to ensure inclusion of persons with disabilities in education in emergencies. It also provides a framework to support indicator development and monitoring and evaluation.

Humanity & Inclusion (2005) Disability checklist for emergency response

This checklist provides practical and simple guidelines about general protection and inclusion principles for persons with disabilities or people with injuries in emergency situations. It gives recommendations to be utilised by program managers and implementers in relation to: health, food and nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene; protection; psychosocial support; reconstruction and shelter; livelihoods; and education. The succinct nature of these checklists is beneficial for donors in building their own knowledge and as a tool for recommendations and monitoring with partner organisations.

WHO (2013) Disability and emergency risk management for health

This guidance note is intended primarily for health actors working in emergency and disaster risk management at local, national or international level, and in governmental or non-governmental agencies. It is a short, practical guide that suggests actions across emergency risk management including risk assessment, prevention, preparedness, response, recovery and reconstruction. The document outlines the minimum steps health actors should take to ensure that specific support is available for people with disabilities when needed and to ensure that disability is included in the development and implementation of general health actions in all emergency contexts.

Handicap International and Atlas Logistique (2009) Accessibility for all in an emergency context

This very practical resource covers all forms of accessibility- including communications, temporary infrastructure, WASH and distribution. A good primer to highlight and raise awareness about accessibility issues that arise in emergency situations, which must be addressed in policy and operationalised in programming to ensure that persons with disabilities are not excluded or left behind.

This toolkit provides guidance and case studies on how to ensure that accessibility and disability inclusion are taken into account in emergencies. Part 1 addresses the overarching aspects of accessibility in emergencies, such as the general principles and frameworks to be followed, the main stakeholders to be involved, data and approaches. Part 2 focuses on the identification of barriers and the main recommendations for typical humanitarian facilities inside and outside camp settings: shelters, WASH infrastructure, community buildings, distribution sites, etc. It also provides recommendations pertaining to communication-related accessibility measures, for example during hygiene promotion sessions. Part 3 provides an overview of how to address accessibility and participation during common activities and phases of humanitarian interventions.

Eleven good practices, testimonies, and individual stories of disability-inclusive DRR have been collected to show practical examples of how people with disabilities can be active participants and leaders in DRR activities. It showcases the capacity of people with disabilities and their families in making disaster risk reduction plans and programs inclusive are shown. If supported by well-informed and disability-aware humanitarian organisations, governmental authorities and international organisations, there is possibility to make sure that people with disabilities (roughly 15% of the world’s population), have equal opportunities to improve their resilience towards disasters. This document provides insightful case studies, supporting project managers and humanitarian staff to conduct disability-inclusive DRR/DRM activities.

This resource guide provides detailed programming advice demonstrated through a practical case study. It covers strategies to guide preparedness, immediate response and mitigation. Whilst this practical resource is primarily targeted toward implementers, it also enables policy makers to see a practical case study example to support implementation of policy.

This good practice case study examines the approach to disability inclusion applied within a comprehensive DRR program implemented by CBM and local partners (Centre for Disability in Development and Gaya Unnayan Kendra) in a disaster-prone area of Bangladesh. The “Gaibandha Model” puts people with disabilities at the center of disaster risk reduction. They are the agents for change, working with the community to improve local systems of disaster prevention, -preparedness and -response to become more accessible and inclusive.

Motivation Australia (2018) Case Study: Emergency response in Vanuatu

Motivation Australia supported people with disabilities during the emergency evacuation of Ambae in Vanuatu in September 2017. This case study explores how Motivation Australia was able to support in-country staff and partners to assess and provide assistive devices to 56 people with disabilities. The case study explores the situation, the response, challenges and lessons learned.

Commissioned by the Humanitarian Partnership Agreement (HPA) agencies, this paper explores how humanitarian practice can be impartial and inclusive of people who face barriers in accessing humanitarian assistance, including persons with disabilities. In response to the Nepal earthquake, the humanitarian practice of five agencies (CARE, Caritas, Oxfam, Plan International and World Vision) is explored across the areas of data disaggregation, alignment with minimum standards, intersectionality, accountability mechanisms, perceived challenges and solutions, and consistency of practice across international federations. Concluding comments highlight that despite strong organisational commitment to inclusion, systematic input into planning and decision making by marginalised groups must be prioritised to strengthen inclusion.

CBM Australia (2012) End the Cycle- Kazols story

This three minute video clip is presented by Kazol Rekha, a young woman living in a village in a flood-prone area of Bangladesh. Kazol is paralysed after an accident severed her spinal cord. She tells about her role on the Disaster Preparedness Committee, making sure persons with disabilities are not forgotten when disaster strikes. This clip shows how a range of interventions can empower persons with disabilities to be active agents of change and challenge community perceptions and stigma. Following this film, Kazol Rekha went on to share her experiences at a high level UN meeting on disability inclusive disaster preparedness.

VIVIDT (2021) How to include organisations of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action

This video was created as part of the VIVID-T project, which main aim is to create a global community of practice working towards disability inclusion in humanitarian action and volunteering. This video focuses on raising awareness about the importance to involve organisations of persons with disabilities (DPOs) and persons with disabilities in humanitarian action, using the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action (published in 2019).

WHO (2021) Experiences of persons with disabilities in health emergencies and humanitarian crises

ersons with disabilities face a range of attitudinal, physical and communication barriers when accessing healthcare during health emergencies and humanitarian crises. This video, produced by WHO and the Lebanese Association for Self-Advocacy, shares the experiences of persons with disabilities in crises, with recommendations for governments.

CBM Australia (2012) End the Cycle- Kazols story

This three minute video clip is presented by Kazol Rekha, a young woman living in a village in a flood-prone area of Bangladesh. Kazol is paralysed after an accident severed her spinal cord. She tells about her role on the Disaster Preparedness Committee, making sure persons with disabilities are not forgotten when disaster strikes. This clip shows how a range of interventions can empower persons with disabilities to be active agents of change and challenge community perceptions and stigma. Following this film, Kazol Rekha went on to share her experiences at a high level UN meeting on disability inclusive disaster preparedness.

CBM Australia (2012) End the Cycle Indepth- Severe Weather

This two minute video clip, presented by Elena Down in Auslan and spoken language, explains how persons with disabilities can be particularly at risk in severe weather events. It makes the case for disability inclusive disaster preparedness and the need for specific training for persons with disabilities to play an active role in preparing for disasters. Includes links to a fact sheet.

Picture of a woman from the Philippines supported on her father’s back. She has cerebral palsy. There is destroyed houses and debris in the background.

Photo: Chelsea Huggett, 2013

Maria* 21, and her father had to flee Typhoon Haiyan as it hit their small town in Iliolo province, the Philippines. Maria has cerebral palsy and was carried by her father on his shoulders, in order to reach safety when their house was destroyed. (*pseudonym used) Copyright: CBM