Disaster management for people with disabilities in Southeast Asia

31 March 2015

Members of the Global Resilience Challenge team are working in the Philippines with the deaf community on disaster emergency preparedness training.
Members of the Global Resilience Challenge team are working in the Philippines with the deaf community on disaster emergency preparedness training.

The goal of helping people in Southeast Asia with disabilities be better prepared for disasters has won a team of University of Sydney researchers a place in the Global Resilience Challenge.

"People with disabilities in Southeast Asia are currently four times more likely to die when a disaster strikes than those without disabilities," said Dr Emma Colgaro, the project leader and research fellow from the School of Geosciences.

"The difficulties faced by people with disabilities can include the inaccessibility of evacuation facilities, emergency response staff not being trained to meet their needs and the interruption of crucial support systems during a disaster."

The Global Resilience Challenge is a three-stage grant competition led by a US$150 million effort to aid vulnerable communities in the Sahel, Horn of Africa,
South and Southeast Asia to move from a reactive response to inevitable disasters to pre-planned management strategies.

After successfully competing against 500 applicants for only 17 places the researchers, from the University's School of Geosciences, received US$ 200,000 in funding to develop their proposal.

In September the strategies created by the seven-member team will be considered for a further US$1 million funding for development and implementation.

"Many people with disabilities in this region are unseen, unheard and uncounted. There are a number of causes, including cultural norms and beliefs that perpetuate negative stereotyping, poor education levels and communication skills, and limited institutional understanding and support."

Associate Professor Dale Dominey-Howes, a member of the successful team and director of the Natural Hazards Research group in the School of Geosciences at the University said, "This is a wonderful opportunity for us to develop the expertise we already have in this area to benefit some of our region's most vulnerable populations in Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia and Indonesia."

Dr Calgaro and Professor Dale Dominey-Howes have an established track record in improving the resilience of disabled people to natural hazards. They have previously developed recommendations for emergency services and deaf communities in NSW. Recommendations such as broadcasting emergency advice in sign language and appointing deaf community liaison officers have since been adopted.

"Using our community networks in Southeast Asia, the initial focus of our research for the Global Resilience Challenge will be with deaf communities, using this as a basis to broaden our scope to other disabilities. Four of our team members are deaf, two of whom have extensive experiences in working in disaster risk reduction in Australia and the Philippines".

International teams from around the world are taking part in the Challenge with expertise across dozens of disciplines including finance, agriculture, conservation and information technology. They will explore the effects of persistent cycles of drought, storms, famine, and other disasters.

"The teams have bold and innovative ideas for getting ahead of the next crisis in a way that will make millions of lives better day-to-day, so that they and their communities realise a resilience dividend - investments that yield positive economic and social impacts every day, particularly for poor and vulnerable people, and that can prevent disruptions from becoming disasters," said Dr Judith Rodin, President of The Rockefeller Foundation.

The competition is funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, United States Agency for International Development and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

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The University of Sydney researchers collaborate with the Centre for Disability Research and Policy and the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre at the University.
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