Inclusive humanitarian work

May 05, 2019


The writer is a development sector practitioner and a lawyer.
The writer is a development sector practitioner and a lawyer.

THE underlying ethos behind humanitarian work is embedded in dignity, inclusion and equality. In the discourse pertaining to development, the word ‘inclusion’ is gaining traction, particularly in the Global South. Unfortunately, this inclusivity, in terms of conception and implementation of developmental assistance, tends to ignore those who are disabled or above the age of 65.

In a world where 15 per cent of the population is deemed disabled and nearly 10pc considered old (above 65), it is crucial to expand the notion of inclusivity. According to the National Institute of Health, old people will comprise nearly 25pc of the world’s population by 2025. Therefore, incorporating them in developmental assistance is the need of the hour.

The 2017 population census in Pakistan shows that 3.2 million citizens are disabled in both rural and urban areas. However, the World Bank and World Health Organisation estimate a much higher figure of 30m, with discrepancies arising owing to the social stigma linked to those reporting disability.

Only a handful of organisations are providing humanitarian relief to the disabled and old in Pakistan.

Within the Global South, particularly Pakistan, vulnerability is often conflated with ethnicity, gender or religion; rarely is it examined from the lens of physical impairment or old age. Resultantly, very little developmental assistance is being given out whilst remaining cognisant of the needs of disabled or the elderly. Economically, the consequences of this exclusion of the disabled are said to be costing Pakistan 5pc to 6pc of its GDP every year. Despite Pakistan having signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, people with disabilities continue to face marginalisation that prevents them from them from fully participating in society. They face barriers in the availability of clinical resources, legal recognition, economic participation and education.

In terms of institutional risks, only a handful of organisations are providing humanitarian relief to the disabled and the old; many of them have been shut down due to the crackdown against international NGOs by the government. Following the passing of the 18th Amendment, the provincial governments have enacted legislation such as the Senior Citizens Act for Punjab and Sindh, the Sindh Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Bill, Disabled Persons Employment and Rehabilitation Act, etc.

In 2014, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government passed a law titled the KP Senior Citizens Welfare Act; this was followed by one by the government of Sindh in 2016.

Unfortunately, implementation of these acts remains extremely weak, with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan lagging behind in terms of legislation and policies. With the merger of Fata with KP, the resources and capability of the province’s administrative machinery has become even more ill equipped to handle the influx of seven new tribal districts.

In terms of educational risks, there are only 330 special education schools, with the largest cluster being located in urban Punjab. The quality of these schools is deemed to be lacking due to hardly any training and sensitisation of teachers, a dearth of resources, cultural biases and little priority being attached to education by the government. At least 50pc of children suffering from disabilities do not have access to special education schools in Pakistan; those that do, must suffer from a below-average quality of education.

Globally, it is projected there will be at least 200m people displaced as a result of climate change by 2050; of whom at least 30m will be those suffering from disabilities, and at least 50m above the age of 65 years. This is especially troublesome for Pakistan which in terms of vulnerability to the negative impact of climate change ranks at seventh position.

Studies show that disabled or older women tend to be more at risk of climate-induced disasters as compared to their male counterparts in Pakistan. Research highlights that people suffering from disabilities or old age are simply not equipped to deal with disasters; particularly within Pakistan, owing to lack of state-sponsored social security.

Alarmingly, 70pc of people suffering from disabilities, or above the age of 65, and 85pc of people who are both old and disabled, are reported to not have any personal preparedness plan to deal with disasters, and only 17pc were aware of any disaster management plan within their neighbourhoods in Pakistan.

It is crucial for stakeholders to study and incorporate the following recommendations in order to ensure that humanitarian approaches adopt a manner of intervention that is age and disability-neutral.

Firstly, training humanitarian workers to be more sensitised and cognisant of the specific needs of older people or those with disabilities and to avoid discrimination or exclusion is important. Secondly, technical assistance and capacity building regarding inclusive disaster-risk management and humanitarian responses should be stressed. Thirdly, during humanitarian situations, inclusive services for those vulnerable on account of disability, age and gender factors should be provided.

Fourthly, the creation of a referral system that enhances access to services being provided by the public and private sector is necessary. Lastly, proactive advocacy in order to make humanitarian guidelines and policies more inclusive of people with disability and older people will make a difference. Whilst incorporating these recommendations, it is imperative for development workers to understand that there is a wide spectrum of disabilities that vary within each level; a blanket approach towards all disabled people cannot be adopted.

Climate risk vulnerabilities, lack of awareness and resources, socioeconomic barriers, cultural prejudices and stigma are some of the barriers towards humanitarian work that prevent inclusivity when it comes to the old and disabled. This has caused vulnerable populations in Pakistan to be ill-prepared in dealing with disasters. There is a need to expand the contours of current developmental approaches, making the latter more sensitive to the needs of the old and disabled and to make humanitarian work more inclusive.

The writer is a development sector practitioner and a lawyer.
Twitter: @Shanzaf

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2019