When all community members find themselves in a vulnerable situation, persons with disabilities may face even greater challenges

Member Interview Author: Nyoman Prayoga, Hoa Nguyen Comments
ASIA: Vietnam

MEMBER INTERVIEW: NGUYEN THI PHUC HOA, Vietnam

Nguyen Thi Phuc Hoa is an expert with an extensive background in working in the field of disaster risk reduction and climate change. She’s involved in many activities with various roles in project implementation, training courses, and capacity building, especially for community-based disaster risk management. ACCCRN talked to her on her thoughts about the disabled community’s role in disaster risk reduction.

What does Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) mean to you?
DRR is the process of considering hazards, vulnerability, capacity, and ways to prevent or limit the negative impacts of hazards that can lead to disaster. The process should be inclusive. It is characterized by the involvement of vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, in all phases of disaster management i.e. pre-disaster, emergency response, and post disaster.

Why do you think that inclusive DRR is important?
In the latest law on disaster mitigation in Vietnam, women and children, people with disabilities, and the elderly are identified as the most vulnerable groups, so their participation in disaster mitigation will make them more active in preparing for and  responding to disasters, the community will understand their specific needs and support them more effectively. As a matter of fact, people with disabilities already face their own difficulties and the community considers them to be people who always need help.

Can you explain further your reasons for emphasizing the involvement of people with disability?
Nature does not dictate that people with disabilities should be the first to die during a disaster. Poverty also plays a role because people with disabilities and poor women  living in areas which are exposed to hazards in poor quality shelters, have less capacity to cope with disasters. They are more vulnerable during disasters due to their impairment, the existing difficulties, and their socio-economic situation, and disasters can create new impairments or disabilities.

We should admit that persons with disabilities tend to be invisible in disasters. Exclusion of persons with disabilities in DRR interventions is creating new barriers for them and not letting them participate in development processes. Human rights are universal, indivisible and equal for all. Persons with disabilities have the same human rights as anyone else.

How do you involve community and disabled people in your work to build resilience?
Participation is the key. Persons with disabilities must be active participants in planning, implementation and monitoring of DRR measures, in climate change policies, conflict prevention and mitigation. Therefore barriers to active participation have to be removed and capacity building programs enhanced.

What is your usual approach?
It’s called ‘The Twin Track approach to disability-inclusive development’. It’s ensuring that persons with disabilities have full access to relief operations, disaster risk reduction policies and conflict prevention/mitigation programs by removing barriers, and at the same time, addressing specific requirements through more individualized support for persons with multiple disabilities or high dependency needs.

The Twin Track approach aims to address the needs and rights of persons with disabilities in mainstream development as well as in providing specific activities focused on developing the capacity of persons with disabilities. This approach is widely used in disability development and was first used by the UK Department for International Development (UK DFID) to promote the full participation of women in development.

Does it work well in your experience?
When all community members find themselves in a vulnerable situation, persons with disabilities may face even greater challenges; they are part of the community, and their active participation in Disaster Risk Management will result in greater assurance that their needs are met. They should be involved in all stages of the Disaster Risk Management cycle.

From your experience of working on this issue in Vietnam and elsewhere, what are the key challenges for you?
Empowering and building capacity for persons with disabilities take time and effort before they participate in mainstreamed activities in their community. At the same time, removing barriers between persons with disabilities and other members of communities so that they can participate actively and effectively in those communities is not easy to do and again it really takes time and effort.

What do you want to emphasize to raise people’s awareness of inclusion of person with disabilities in disaster risk management?
I have several things to raise. Firstly, comprehensive accessibility and universal design are important concepts that should be incorporated into humanitarian action policies, making sure relief operations and structures are fully accessible for all, including persons with disabilities.

Secondly, the immediate post-emergency phase and early re-construction period should be driven by the “build back better” principles, stressing the opportunity to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities through sound and inclusive investment and decision-making processes.

Thirdly, non-discrimination should underpin all policies in emergencies and conflict prevention/mitigation, and require a proactive approach aiming at identifying and removing exclusion factors, which prevent persons with disabilities from accessing relief services and programs on peace and conflict mitigation.

Last but not least, disaster and conflict management involve a large variety of stakeholders that all need to coordinate their efforts to ensure that disability is included in their projects as a core-crosscutting theme.