Ensuring All Get Aid During Humanitarian Crises

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New UN Guidelines Address People with Disabilities, Older People

Samer Muscati, Associate Director, Disability Rights Division

Can you imagine living in a refugee camp and having to crawl to the latrine because it's not accessible for you? Sadly, this is the reality for many people with disabilities and older people in countries experiencing conflict or natural disasters around the world.

But today's launch of the United Nations Guidelines on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action marks an important step toward changing that.

These guidelines, developed by the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), will assist humanitarian agencies, governments, and affected communities in making sure people with disabilities are included in all phases of humanitarian action -- from planning to coordination to monitoring.

There are at least one billion people worldwide with a disability, many of whom live in conflict zones or in areas affected by natural disasters -- both of which are more likely to increase in frequency due, in part, to climate change.

Human Rights Watch has documented the heightened risks faced by people with disabilities and older people in conflict areas such as the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Iraq, Myanmar, South Sudan, and Yemen.

We have found that war, natural disasters, and other situations of risk have had a devastating and disproportionate impact on people with disabilities and older people. They have been abandoned, attacked, displaced, and even faced neglect in humanitarian responses. But their plight has been largely invisible, including to humanitarian actors.

People with disabilities who manage to reach sites for internally displaced people or refugees often face difficulties accessing food, sanitation, and medical assistance.

"Félix," a man with a mobility disability who fled violence in his home village in the South-West region of Cameroon, described his struggles to Human Rights Watch: "The biggest challenge is the toilet. It's outside and is used by many people, so it is often disgusting. I am afraid I will soon get some disease since I must creep to the toilet with my hands."

The IASC guidelines are the result of an inclusive consultation process that involved more than 600 participants from both the humanitarian and disability sectors, as well as many organizations of persons with disabilities around the world.

These guidelines are a crucial step in making "No one left behind" a reality and ensuring that Félix and other people with disabilities can live in dignity and access services during humanitarian crises.

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