Climate Change And Persons Living With Disabilities


Heavy rains, tropical cyclones and droughts do not discriminate when they hit. But when disaster strikes, poor and vulnerable groups are often left behind and tend to be more affected in comparison to other population groups. Furthermore, the path to recovering from the impact of climate change hazards and disasters is not one of equal opportunity.

Due to existing resource access disparities, some population groups face increased exposure to the negative effects of climate change. For persons living with disabilities, their situation is even more desperate. One of the central pledges of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda is to “leave no one behind”.  It is thus important that vulnerable and marginalised groups are included from the start in preparing for climate change adaptation and that the inequalities and the risks that they face are understood in order to plan and invest in an inclusive manner.

During a recent consultative workshop on how climate change was affecting vulnerable groups as part of developing the stocktaking report for the National Adaptation Plan (NAP), the Chairperson of the Federation of Organisations of Disabled People in Zimbabwe, Mr Khupe argued for the need to address challenges faced by people with disabilities and noted that,

In developing countries like Zimbabwe, disabled people suffer an uneven number of fatalities due to climate change. For example, we are particularly vulnerable in disaster situations including extreme weather events due to mobility constraints.  Persons living with disabilities are most likely to be left behind or abandoned during evacuation and face discrimination and gaps in access to services and resources during recovery and reconstruction.”

Mr Nyoni, from the Zimbabwe Albino Association also weighed in on how persons living with albinism were being affected by climate change,

Youth are faced by various cross cutting climate change impacts, however being a young person, living with a disability intensifies the vulnerability. As young people living with albinism, the increased temperatures being felt as a result of climate change pose a great threat. Yes, we are using sun screen but this is not readily accessible to everyone and there are a lot of fake products on the market. In addition, the sun screens that we are using are not as effective as they are made for countries that experience lower temperatures such as the United Kingdom from where they are currently being imported for our use.

Planning for climate change adaptation – in an inclusive way

Mr. Khupe, noted with concern how persons living with disability were very vulnerable to climate change hazards yet they were seldom included in planning, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of climate change adaptation efforts,

Persons living with disability lack information on climate change as it is rarely in formats they are able to access such as braille and audio. This creates an information gap which is the first step towards building climate resilience.”

His sentiments were echoed by Emily Matingo from the Climate Change Management Department in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, who said,

It is extremely important that we understand the impact of climate change on vulnerable groups including women, children, youth, the elderly and persons living with disabilities. Even though these groups are mostly categorized as vulnerable to climate change, they are also resourceful given their ability to push decision makers to take action and because they provide examples of good practices and ideas for how to improve climate change risk response and adaptation options. Incorporating views from vulnerable groups thus helps to enhance adaption planning ultimately increasing community resilience by ensuring a wholly comprehensive and country owned National Adaptation Plan”.

Mainstreaming considerations on disabilities into climate change adaptation

The participants in the workshop highlighted the need to ensure that national adaptation planning, policies and programmes take the needs of vulnerable groups into consideration. Mr. Nyoni also took the opportunity to express the long term climate change adaptation priorities specifically for people living with albinism noting that, “Climate policies and strategies need to be disability sensitive, advocating for the standardisation of products such as sun screens as well as advocating for the manufacturing of locally based products that are suitable to the increasing temperatures”. In his final remarks, Mr. Khupe thanked the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate and the UNDP for the initiative and noted that consultation of persons living with disabilities and other marginalised groups was a step towards developing the stocktaking report of the NAP in an inclusive manner.

The stocktaking exercise of the National Adaptation Plan was initiated under the Scaling up Adaptation through Strengthening Integrated Planning Systems Project implemented by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate through the Environmental Management Agency with support from UNDP.

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