How Climate Change Leaves the Disabled Community Vulnerable (4/18/2023)
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are about 1.3 billion people with a significant disability. But why are countries and governments overlooking disabled people, a very vulnerable population, and leaving them out of emergency and disaster planning?
Why Climate Change is Disadvantageous for People with Disabilities
Disabled people are more likely to be at risk in the case of climate-related threats for many reasons.
Some of these reasons include:
- Existing health conditions
- A lack of access to education
- Higher chance of experiencing poverty
- Lack of safe and accessible evacuation routes
Because people with disabilities usually need extra assistance and access to medical supplies, they may not be able to get the support they need in a natural disaster.
Climate-Related Threats That Affect Disabled People
When extreme weather events happen, people with disabilities are at a disadvantage. Without a proper plan to help them before, during, or after an event, disabled people are more likely to get sick or injured during intense weather changes.
- Heat waves: when temperatures are higher than average, disabled people are more likely to experience heat illnesses. If they are unable to afford air conditioning because of poverty or have limited access to transportation, they are more likely to fall ill.
- Flooding, heavy rain, or rising sea levels: if the water supply is contaminated because weather events like heavy rain, disabled people will be more prone to getting sick. They also might not know about important emergency information, such as boiling contaminated water or safe evacuation plans, because the warnings may not be hearing- or vision-accessible.
- Hurricanes, tornadoes, or other natural disasters: during extreme weather events, people with disabilities might struggle to evacuate if there are no accessible routes or there’s a power outage. This means they won’t be able to evacuate safely or have access to the medical help they need. Disabled people are also more vulnerable to mental health issues, such as stress or anxiety.
How Governments Have Left Disabled People Out of Disaster Planning
A report in June 2022 from the Disability Inclusive Climate Action Research Program at McGill University and the International Disability Alliance found that many countries are neglecting the disabled community in climate policy.
There are 132 countries that are part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Paris climate accords from 2015. Out of all these countries, only 32 mentioned disabled people in their climate change plans. Forty-five countries referred to the disabled community in their climate adaptation plans, but none mentioned them in their climate mitigation plans.
Over one hundred countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, drafted in 2006. This treaty said that countries will take “all necessary measures to ensure protection and safety of persons with disabilities in…humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.” However, the United States is one out of eight remaining countries that signed the treaty but haven’t finalized it.
What Needs to Change?
Simply put, governments need to include people with disabilities in their climate change plans and prepare accessible strategies for the disabled community so that they can evacuate safely and have access to medical help if a disaster strikes.
What are your thoughts on climate change and how it affects the disabled community? Let us know in the comments and share this article to spread more awareness!
Cover image via Pacific Standard
People with disabilities left out of climate planning | AP News
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities | OHCHR
Connections Between Climate Change and Disability - Disability & Philanthropy Forum
Climate Change and the Health of People with Disabilities | US EPA
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