800,000 Afghans disabled, says United Nations

Islamabad (Office of the United Nations Co-ordinator for Afghanistan), 3 December 1999 -- "After twenty years of war, about four percent of the Afghan population--or 800,000 people--are disabled due to war, landmines, polio, and poor basic health care," said Peter Coleridge, Programme Manager of the United Nations Comprehensive Disabled Afghans Programme (CDAP-UNDP). He was speaking yesterday in Peshawar, Pakistan at a ceremony hosted jointly by CDAP and the Afghan Campaign to Ban Landmines to observe the International Day of the Disabled.

About twenty NGOs took part in the disability exhibition in Peshawar, which highlighted work for the rehabilitation of the disabled. Inside Afghanistan, the International Day of Disabled Persons is being observed country wide with public meetings, exhibitions, and sports tournaments for the disabled.

Disabled Afghans, including the blind and the deaf, attended the Peshawar ceremony. An Afghan sign language expert provided interpretation for the deaf in the audience.

Peter Coleridge invited the audience to give particular attention to the problems of the deaf in Afghan society. "Deaf people are not very well understood by hearing people. Since their disability is invisible, they are more likely to be ignored than people suffering from other types of disability. Many deaf people in Afghanistan are very isolated, living twilight lives on the edge of the family and community." About half of Afghanistan's disabled population suffers from sensory handicaps such as blindness, deafness, and multiple sensory impairment.

In Afghanistan, deafness is largely the result of preventable diseases, and especially of middle ear infections. These are common in communities that have little or no access to health care. In addition to working with the deaf in all areas of its operations, CDAP is engaged in a long-term project with two NGOs to prepare the first dictionary of Afghan sign language, of which two volumes have been completed so far.

Since landmines are one of the main causes of disability in Afghanistan, Coleridge also appealed to those using landmines to stop both their use and stockpiling.

CDAP and NGO partners support 300 Disabled Persons Organisations and Community Based Rehabilitation Committees in 66 of Afghanistan's 350 districts. About 400 staff, almost all Afghan, provide community mobilisation, mid-level rehabilitation, and orthopaedic and physiotherapy services.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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