By Denis McClean
DAVOS, 27 August 2014 - The Chilean town of Peňaflor is celebrating this week. A local NGO born out of the 2010 earthquake and tsunami has scooped the prestigious Risk Award at the 5th International Disaster and Risk Conference in Davos, Switzerland, which ends tomorrow.
The Chilean NGO Inclusiva was among 77 organizations from 44 countries which submitted entries this year and won the €100,000 prize for its efforts to remove architectural, cultural and technological barriers for people living with disabilities (PWDs) in the town of Peňaflor.
The prestigious prize is sponsored by the Global Risk Forum, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the MunichRe Foundation which manages the application process.
Headed by a dynamic former University Professor, Carlos Kaiser, Inclusiva was founded after the destructive earthquake and tsunami which struck Chile in February 2010, and is working a quiet revolution in attitudes and behaviors which it wants to expand beyond the town to the rest of Chile and Latin America.
Carlos uses his own condition caused by meromelia as a metaphor for how the world appears to people living with disabilities. “We have all been to places where the sockets for the plugs on our computers or phone chargers don't work. My arms and legs are sort of plugs for a country that doesn’t exist. We need to create a better world for everyone.”
Peňaflor has a population of over 100,000 and is one of over 2,000 members of UNISDR’s Making Cities Resilient Campaign. Though affected by the 8.8 earthquake which claimed 525 lives, the town was relatively unscathed.
Working with a network of people from the devastated areas and Austral University, Carlos developed his first prize-winning submission, an Inclusive Rebuilding Proposal. He was disappointed with the lack of scale when it came to implementation. Only 100 inclusively built houses were provided for PWDs.
“If you apply an approximation that 10% of all those affected by the earthquake were people living with disabilities then more than 100,000 were in need of help but only 400 received assistance. It’s a worldwide reality, 15% of the global population lives with disability and 3% are severely disabled. UNISDR conducted the first-ever survey of people living with disability and disasters. Over 6,000 people responded and the challenges they face are clear. It would be interesting to see how many decision-makers are using those results to take action.”
The Risk Award proposal focusses on removing obstacles and barriers to how people can function in the wake of a disaster: if functioning level decreases then the risk of death and injury increases.
“If you’re talking about people that don’t have great incomes, they don’t have doors wide enough for wheelchairs or other devices. We find other things that are not so obvious that are badly done, electrical installation, poor quality construction. It is not always possible to make things as the book says so you start adapting. We are doing our best with regards to the local conditions. We are strengthening the person because he or she is the principal actor in his or her own life.”
The winning Risk Award entry, “Peňaflor town inclusive safe community: Resilience for all” is part of a larger programme “Inclusive Community” that was launched in 2011 with a view to improving the situation of the 9,000 people in the town living with disabilities. In addition to reducing risk overall, the project seeks to remove barriers in ten “hot spots’ frequently visited by PWDs and to strengthen the role of PWDs as key actors in inclusive emergency management.
As Inclusiva’s Executive Director, Carlos Kaiser also emphasizes the importance of removing cultural barriers. “It’s quite difficult to change culture but it’s not impossible. When you see that there are buildings that are not well-designed or built, they are a product of culture because that’s the way we see the world. People follow the culture. We are inviting them not to be followers but to be actors to change reality by changing their own minds.”
Culture and attitudes also affect our thinking or failure to think about less obvious but important things such as the difference between evacuating a blind person from a building and taking out someone in a wheelchair.
The work starts in earnest next month when the first inclusive DRR training courses get underway for 1,200 leaders drawn from key areas of civil society and local government including the police, fire department and community organizations.
Further information is available on the website www.risk-award.org. Applications are being sought for the Risk Award 2015 which will be presented next year on March 14 at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai , Japan. The deadline for proposals is November 1 and the focus is on people-centred, innovative and sustainable disaster risk reduction projects.