New Delhi – September is National Preparedness Month in America. Sponsored by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Preparedness Month aims to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to all types of emergencies, including natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks.

Disaster preparedness ought to be a priority for any country. But ironically it’s been a week that a national daily covered the issue of callousness of the authorities and state agencies towards the disaster management and emergency preparedness for the people with disabilities in India and nobody has uttered a word about it. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) in India clearly stated in their replies to RTIs filed by me, Abha Khetarpal, President, Cross the Hurdles, that they have no specific and clear policies and management strategies to rescue people with disabilities at the time of disasters whether man made or natural. But not a single word has been spoken regarding this by any of the government agency whether it may be Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Home Affairs and NDMA, whose Chairperson Is the Prime Minister himself or NIDM which is responsible to provide technical support to the state governments through the Disaster Management Centers (DMCs) in the Administrative Training Institutes (ATIs) of the States and Union Territories.

Here I am not comparing the facilities given in these two countries i.e. America and India. I know it would wrong on my part to do so because there are economic limitations of developing country which a huge amount of population and almost everything belonging to the unorganized sector. But yes, I am won’t be ashamed to compare the attitudes of the government departments, implementation of whatever written in the rule books and lack of importance given to human lives between these two countries.

In their reply to the RTI to NDMA states that there are no special measures and minimum standard of relief has been prescribed for rescuing of persons falling Below Poverty Line group. The rescue and relief and operation teams of NDRF are specially trained to treat people with special needs. But if you go the link of their website given by them to check their training modules you won’t find any such module in this regard or mention of such specific course. (http://ndrfandcd.gov.in/writereaddata/userfiles/file/update.pdf)

And NIDM in their reply to the RTI clearly states that they have not yet developed any training materials. It should be the duty of the state agencies to educate the public about how to prepare for emergencies, including natural disasters, mass casualties, biological and chemical threats, radiation emergencies, and terrorist attacks especially for those who are not able to defend themselves during emergency.

Apart from giving ‘moral support and preference’ as told by NDMA, specific needs of different disabilities must be addressed in addition to the usual needs of all individuals. For example, it might be difficult for people with physical impairments to keep themselves warm due to lack of movement and poor circulation. This situation demands the need for warm clothing, blankets or fi re wood. In addition, people with difficulty in moving may also need assistance for evacuating from an unsafe situation, accessing relief shelters and using latrines. Physical assistance, assistive devices, or installation of ramps may be necessary to ensure these persons are not disadvantaged or trapped in a dangerous situation. People with visual or hearing impairments are unlikely to notice warning signals and quick evacuation routes during a disaster situation. Subsequently there should be a separate alarm system along with personnel support to move them to a safer place. Some of them may find it difficult to understand and appropriately react to instructions; for these persons, it is important to provide relevant information in a manner which they can understand such as using simple language or pictures, or speaking very slowly and clearly. Where are the specific guidelines or training modules to cater to such needs? No policy measures and proper infrastructure built up is mentioned to rescue of evacuate persons with disabilities from government and private buildings like offices, auditoriums, theaters, hotels, schools etc. There is no contingency plan to regarding management of persons with disabilities at the time of disaster whether man made or natural. There are no specific evacuation measures apart from being given preference.

There was a polio epidemic in Car Nicobar Island (India) several years ago, which resulted in about 700 people becoming disabled. Three days after the disaster tsunami in 2004 people could not locate a single disabled person! They may be dead, as they may not have been able to run up the hills to save their lives. And after 24 years till now there no policy measures for Disaster Management for the People with Disabilities. The earthquake that rocked Kashmir in 2005 took away the lives of many people with disabilities.

At present the states of Jammu and Kashmir in India are facing the worst ever natural calamity, I doubt how many people with disabilities during and after evacuation would be getting proper facilities, treatment and rehabilitation services which is their human right.

Emergencies can happen anywhere, at any time. It is important to understand potential risks where you live. Disasters don’t discriminate. It is time to include people with disabilities in emergency services as contributors and collaborators, not just as people viewed as victims to be rescued users.

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