Still waiting

  • In the post-quake relief effort, little attention has been paid to the plight of the disabled
- Dr Umesh Raj Regmi
Still waiting

Jun 8, 2015-

The effects of the recent quake on the disabled has been largely overlooked. It is estimated that 3-5 percent of the total population of Nepal suffers from some sort of physical disability, and 30 percent of this population is currently in the Valley, most of them for temporary stay. The two large quakes further aggravated the problems faced by physically-challenged people. Mainly, the blind and those using wheelchairs seem to have been most affected by the earthquake. 

No disabled-friendly spaces 

Even under normal circumstances, these two groups were suffering a lot. Let alone other towns and cities in the country, even buildings and infrastructure in the Kathmandu Valley are ill-prepared when it comes to the disabled. Hardly any schools, hospitals, or government offices in the Valley have ramps, elevators, modified toilets, and wider hallways to assist those on wheelchairs or those with white sticks. To add to all this, people with various physical disabilities have not received special priority during times of disaster, despite desperately needing it.

Given that even physically-capable people feel insecure in their homes during quakes, it is not hard to surmise the condition of the disabled. People with physical disability cannot make quick leaps to safety. The blind face problems in finding a safe zone even inside their homes and a risk-free way out, while the deaf cannot hear when others scream of an aftershock. Similarly, wheelchair users and amputees are resigned to simply wait for the situation 

to improve or help to arrive. Sadly, very little seems to have been done to make their life easy.

Forced to wait

The death toll of physically-disabled people is more than 25 till date, with Rasuwa topping the list. Likewise, 425 disabled people have been reported as injured so far. But life is not easy for those who have survived the disaster. Narrow spaces, crowded shelters, and a lack of proper medical attention has given thousands of disabled people a tough time. They have even been forgotten in the relief-distribution process. Furthermore, 3,000 injured persons are estimated to have become disabled now. 

About 600 handicapped people did manage to find open grounds in Jawalakhel and Bhrikuti Mandap, thanks to the initiative of the National Handicapped Association (NDA), Handicapped International, and the Lions Club. But apart from this, there were few other programmes that tried to address their plight . 

In some District Administration Offices, disabled people waiting helplessly for relief materials was plain to see. And although they were said to have been given special priority in the relief-distribution process and other rehabilitation programmes, the reality turned out to be totally different. 

But the problems don’t end there. Reports that some of the hostels meant for disabled students in schools and collegesin Kaski, Dolakha, Sindhupalchok, Kavre, and Gorkha districts have become unlivable, virtually imperiling their lives, have surfaced in the aftermath of the disaster. Moreover, hardly anything has been done to address gender-specific troubles among disabled girls and women. 

Addressing their needs

Nepal became one of the first countries in the region to introduce a disability act in 1982 and it is also signatory to the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Despite numerous guarantees and significant aid, the state has little to show for its efforts, either during normal times or disaster. It has already been a month since the first and main quake struck Nepal, but the disabled are still awaiting relief. They should have been able to benefit from rehabilitation by now, like others have. 

A seperate governing body is necessary for their rehabilitation, along with a long-term plan for their benefit. 

The state has to immediately address the special needs of the disabled in the post-disaster context. They should be counseled and encouraged to return to normal life. We have to make sure that their safety is the first priority. It is time to make them feel that they have helping hands around them and that they won’t have to suffer from any similar predicaments in the future. Different welfare organisations can develop plans to empower the disabled to lead independent livelihoods. Disabled-friendly spaces and infrastructure should be constructed immediately. And those disabled, who have been directly or indirectly affected by the earthquake, should be treated with love, affection, and without any discrimination. 

Regmi is associated with the Nepal Youth Foundation

Published: 09-06-2015 07:55

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