Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller - Remarks at the HNPW Event: The importance of networks for making humanitarian action inclusive of people with disabilities

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 05 Feb 2019

International Conference Centre, Geneva, 5 February 2019

As delivered

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends,

It is a pleasure to be with you this afternoon to discuss how we can make humanitarian action more inclusive. My sincere thanks go to the co-sponsors of this event.

I would like start by congratulating Australia and the United Kingdom for having revived the Geneva “Group of Friends” on the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action. So far, 28 Member States have endorsed the Charter, and I encourage those of you who have not done so already to join the Group of Friends.

We stand at a time of great challenge, as well as opportunity, when it comes to delivering inclusive humanitarian action that meets the needs and priorities of everyone, including those living with disabilities. While much progress has been made on the policy side, we are here today to make sure that this progress also fundamentally transforms our everyday operations.

Today, more than 132 million people require humanitarian assistance and protection – that’s almost three times the number a decade ago.

This dramatic increase has been driven, in part, by conflicts and protracted crises, which have grown in complexity and also in intensity and duration. As of last year, conflict, violence and persecution had forcibly displaced 70 million people. Climate change has worsened the impact of natural disasters, forcing millions of people to flee their homes.

To meet these mounting needs, humanitarians are undertaking more timely, more effective, more informed and well-coordinated responses. We are scaling up, often with limited resources, to save lives and alleviate suffering.

But, as we all know, conflicts and natural disasters do not affect everyone in the same way. Quite the contrary – the impact that a crisis will have on a person will vary depending on their gender, their age, their background, and whether they have a disability.

Today, there are millions of people with disabilities around the world who are affected by humanitarian crises. While the World Health Organization estimates that 15 per cent of the global population has a disability, some studies put this number even higher in humanitarian settings. For example, a study by Humanity and Inclusion and iMMAP showed that almost one in four Syrian refugees surveyed in Jordan and Lebanon were living with disability.

People with disabilities face a range of different obstacles in emergencies. During evacuations, people with disabilities are more likely to be left behind or abandoned. They suffer disproportionately when the social and economic support systems that they rely on break down. They face heightened risks when seeking humanitarian assistance and protection. Women and girls with disabilities face multiple forms of discrimination and are particularly exposed to sexual exploitation and gender-based violence.

The 2016 World Humanitarian Summit called upon all of us to move away from a “one size-fits all” approach to humanitarian action. We need to change our thinking and our actions so that we meet the diverse needs and empower all people in crisis, including people with disabilities.

Since the summit, we made a lot of progress, including many new initiatives. Allow me to share two brief examples, which I think are important.

Last July, the Global Disability Summit was held in London. Organized by the United Kingdom, the Republic of Kenya and the International Disability Alliance, the Summit reiterated the need to improve the situation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of society, including in crises. A number of important commitments were made at the Summit, many in support of the Disability Charter. Others addressed head-on the need for better inclusion and empowerment of persons with disabilities in humanitarian action.

Last December, the UN Security Council discussed – for the first time ever – the impact of armed conflict on persons with disabilities. Led by Poland in partnership with Côte d’Ivoire, Germany, Kuwait and Peru, this meeting is a great example of how partners working together can make historic change. The Polish Ambassador will provide us with more insights about this initiative.

While we can all be proud of these and the many other efforts that have taken place, we still have a lot of work ahead.

A review of 40 UN entities and a sample of UN Country Teams carried out last year found a wide range of gaps. I am delighted to have here with us the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, who led this review, will talk more about these findings.

Following on this review, a UN system-wide policy and accountability framework on disability is being developed and should be ready for approval by this year. OCHA is fully committed to supporting this process, and to doing our outmost in making sure that the people with disabilities are fully included in humanitarian action.

To be effective, Governments must address disability rights in their national development plans. Member States and the Security Council must provide the political and financial support necessary to address this issue. Parties to conflict must ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are respected and protected. And humanitarian agencies, donors and governments must implement inclusive community-based response and preparedness frameworks.

This requires taking into account the diverse needs, not only of persons with disabilities but also other vulnerable groups. We – and I include OCHA’s important role in this – must mainstream persons with disabilities throughout the humanitarian programme cycle, and make sure that they, and their representative organizations, take an active part at every step of the planning and decision-making process.

On OCHA’s side, we will implement the commitments we made at the Global Disability Summit. Together with other UN Agencies, we are working on improving the collection and analysis of disability disaggregated data, and to making humanitarian coordination tools more inclusive.

I look forward to continuing working with organizations representing persons with disabilities, the Group of Friends and all of you. Together, I know we can deliver on our vision and promise of inclusive humanitarian action that will realize the potential of people with disabilities in crises across the world.

Humanitarian action is only effective if it is inclusive.

Thank you

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