When disaster strikes, most people with disabilities are unprepared, leaving them vulnerable to injury and even death, a first-of-its-kind survey finds.
Just 20 percent of the world’s people with disabilities could evacuate immediately without difficulty in the event of a disaster, according to the global survey conducted by the United Nations.
Some 6 percent said they would not be able to escape at all while the remainder indicated they could evacuate with varying degrees of difficulty.
For the survey, 5,450 people with disabilities from 126 countries answered 22 questions about their plans in case of a disaster. Preliminary findings were released this week ahead of the International Day for Disaster Reduction on Sunday.
About 7 in 10 individuals polled said they have no personal preparedness plan and only a third said they always have someone available to help them evacuate. Meanwhile, just 17 percent of respondents were aware of the disaster management plan for their city and few had been consulted on their community’s plan.
“The results of this survey are shocking,” said Margareta Wahlström, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. “It clearly reveals that the key reason why a disproportionate number of disabled persons suffer and die in disasters is because their needs are ignored and neglected by the official planning process in the majority of situations. They are often left totally reliant on the kindness of family, friends and neighbors for their survival and safety.”
Survey respondents described taking special precautions when concerned about bad weather, with one sleeping in a wheelchair in order to be able to take cover quickly and another who’s unable to hear sirens staying up to watch storm coverage.
Suggestions from those polled included everything from making sure that wheelchair access is considered in emergency evacuation plans to a recommendation that color-coded systems are avoided since they may be unhelpful for color-blind individuals.
Wahlström said the concerns raised in the survey responses will better inform U.N. member states when they convene for the 2015 World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Japan to adopt a new global framework for disaster risk reduction.