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“Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world”

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UNRWA Statement on Occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities

The Covid-19 global pandemic highlighted the deep inequalities that exist in our world. Over the past year, we have collectively witnessed the world's most vulnerable populations fall through social safety nets and face increasingly insurmountable barriers to basic services. Persons with disabilities have been amongst the most negatively impacted, with new barriers added to pre-existing ones: they have had more difficulty exercising preventative measures due to inaccessible communication and barriers to accessing WaSH facilities. In many contexts, persons with disabilities have not been adequately considered and prioritized to access health care due to a lack of understanding of the heightened risk they might face and negative perceptions about their value in society[1]. Children with disabilities have struggled to keep up with remote learning due to inaccessible platforms that are not always customized to their specific needs. These are just some examples of the factors that have compounded the lack of access to services faced by persons with disabilities, increasing their invisibility, and further deepening their exclusion from society.

Often trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and disability, many persons with disabilities were already in a vulnerable situation pre-Covid. Many were, therefore, unprepared for the pandemic and associated movement restrictions as they lacked the resources to stock up on food supplies and essential medicine. Findings from an UNRWA assessment conducted in Syria revealed that surveyed Palestine refugees with disabilities lacked access to basic medical supplies and services[2]. In Gaza and the West Bank, people with disabilities already had difficulties accessing services and information, and the pandemic significantly exacerbated this situation[3] due to the largely inaccessible manner in which Covid-19 preventative measures were communicated. Surveys conducted by organizations working with women and girls with disabilities in the West Bank and Gaza highlighted a significant need of psychological counselling[4]. A study by UNICEF conducted in Gaza has shown that 64 per cent of children with disabilities experienced violence from caregivers and parents who were unable to cope with the economic burden caused by the pandemic[5]. In Jordan, 46 per cent of Palestine refugee households with a member with disability did not have the necessary means to purchase medicine[6].

While UNRWA rapidly adjusted its operations by providing home visits and delivery of essential items to some of its most vulnerable clients, including persons with disabilities, to ensure their needs were identified and addressed, lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic have renewed our commitment to ensure those who are most at risk of being left behind are assisted first. We acknowledge that this can only be done by taking conscious steps to empower those who are most at risk of exclusion, creating a space in which voices are heard and equal participation is possible.

In 2021, UNRWA initiated a revision of its Disability Inclusion Policy to ensure that the meaningful empowerment and participation of persons with disabilities is explicitly referenced to better reflect our continued commitment to engaging men, women, girls, and boys with disabilities in our field activities and services. The updated policy, consistent with the rights-based approach, emphasizes the necessity of systematic identification of persons with disabilities, their needs, and the barriers they face, recognizes the role of intersectionality in heightening vulnerability and risk, and commits to ensuring essential services are continuously adapted to the specific needs of persons with disabilities. Finally, the new policy reaffirms our commitment to ensuring the meaningful participation of person with disabilities in the planning, implementation, monitoring, evaluation, reporting, and review of UNRWA policies and interventions that affect them.

We cannot move toward an inclusive, accessible, and sustainable post-COVID-19 world without the leadership and meaningful participation of persons with disabilities.


[1]* IASC Covid-19 Response: Applying the IASC Guidelines on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, 2020*

[2] UNRWA SFO, Socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on Palestine refugees in Syria, (August 2020), internal document

[3] Occupied Palestinian Territory Covid-19 Response Plan: by the Humanitarian Country Team; 24 April 2020

[4] Covid-19 Protection Needs Identification and Analysis in the state of Palestine: Child Protection Area of Responsibility, Global Protection Cluster, November 2020

[5] Covid-19 Protection Needs Identification and Analysis in the state of Palestine: Child Protection Area of Responsibility, Global Protection Cluster, November 2020

[6] Rapid Socio-economic study of the effects of Covid-19 on Palestine Refugees in Jordan; UNRWA; June 2020