Chile's fires: reaching everyone

News and Press Release
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By Carlos Kaiser

SANTIAGO, 6 February 2017 – In the midst of Chile’s worst forest fires in five decades, award-winning local campaigners have spotlighted the need to ensure that people with disabilities are not forgotten in emergency operations and disaster risk reduction.

According to official sources, the fires have hit more than 547,190 hectares, claimed 11 lives and left 3,810 victims.

The Chilean non-governmental organization Inclusiva estimates that more than 630 people with disabilities have been affected, with over 175 of them having to take refuge in shelters.

Inclusiva has issued a report on the situation facing people with disabilities in fire crisis as of 31 January. It mainly addresses the importance of data on the number of people with disabilities affected, the measures taken by the government related to disability in the emergency, and Inclusiva’s own actions in conjunction with other entities that are working on disability issues.

The study noted that the Chilean government has included sign language in its emergency communications strategy. It also underlined that people with disabilities have the same right to be cared for in the emergency as the rest of the population, as enshrined in Chilean law, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

In 2013, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) led the first global survey on disasters and people with disabilities. It revealed that only 20-30% of people with disabilities could evacuate in an emergency, and also highlighted the importance of having early warning systems that reach all members of the community.

Likewise, the survey revealed that only 17% of those surveyed were aware of a disaster management plan in their community, while 50% expressed their desire to participate in community disaster management.

Such concerns fed into the process of crafting the Sendai Framework, a 15-year agreement that was adopted by the international community in 2015.

Among its guiding principles, the Sendai Framework states that disaster risk reduction requires the involvement and collaboration of society as a whole. It also calls for empowerment and inclusiveness, accessible and non-discriminatory participation, and for special attention to the needs of people disproportionately affected by disasters, particularly the poorest.

Likewise, it also emphasizes that gender, age, disability and cultural perspectives should be integrated into all policies and practices, and that the leadership of women and young people should be promoted. In this context, special attention should be given to improving organized voluntary work of citizens, it says.

Inclusiva was born out of the 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Chile, and in 2014 won the Risk Award, which is sponsored by the Swiss-based Global Risk Forum, UNISDR and the MunichRe Foundation.

It works to ensure respect of the rights, autonomy and dignity of people with disabilities in risk management; to expand inclusive coverage of emergency issues in the media; to make disability an indicator of inclusion in all public emergency and reconstruction policies; and to activate assistance networks and support programs for persons with disabilities.

It also seeks to make the needs of the more than 395,000 people with disabilities in Chile – a country with 18 million inhabitants –more visible and to enforce laws for the benefit of the population as a whole.

Former university professor Carlos Kaiser is head of Inclusiva