Inclusion not just a buzz word – Putting theory into practice

People with disabilities appear to be more vulnerable than healthy people. However, it is quite often the external circumstances that give rise to their vulnerability in the first place. If we succeed in creating an environment in which all people – with or without a disability – have the same chances, then we can – and this also applies in the field of disaster risk reduction – speak of inclusion in real practice.

The 2014 RISK Award went to ONG Inclusiva. This non-profit organisation in Chile wants to ensure that the rights of disabled people are also taken into account in disaster risk reduction measures. In Peñaflor, a town to the south of Santiago, the NGO is working in close cooperation with the town council to prove that this is possible. The project results and important messages for both the regional and national frameworks were presented at the international "Peñaflor – Comuna Segura Inclusiva" seminar held from 18 to 19 November 2015. Munich Re Foundation, as a RISK Award donor, was one of the hosts.

The problem of not being a developing country
For some years now, Chile has no longer been considered a developing country. This is due, among other things, to its intact economy, rising average-income levels and social developments. This sounds positive, as it proves that it is possible for poor countries in a problematic environment to successfully forge ahead. The problem with this progress becomes evident when analysing the situation of the people who are not initially involved in the upswing. These can include the elderly, marginalised groups or disabled people. The social system in Chile is not yet developed well enough to be able to take care of the special needs of these groups on its own. Often there is not only a lack of financial support for the procurement of medicine, for example, but also of human resources for personal assistance with things such as daily physiotherapy treatment.

 
Kathalina, whose son is disabled, explains to the ONG project team how the government supports her.

Kathalina, a Peñaflor resident, has been included in the project. She has a son with a very serious physical and intellectual disability caused by the Menkes syndrome. She explains the problem: "My sister has two sons, I have one. All three of them suffer from the Menkes syndrome. On top of this, our father is paralysed from the hip down. We have to take care of our family ourselves, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The government supports us with a pension and benefits for the children to the amount of US$ 800 a month. This is not enough." She works out that the money she needs for the rent and medicines alone adds up to more than US$ 1,000. She does not know how she can make up the difference.

Earlier, when Chile was considered a developing country, there were major aid programmes managed by the World Bank, international church organisations, USAID and other sponsors. However, because of their statutes, most of them are only permitted to invest exclusively in developing countries. This excludes an engagement in Chile, and Kathalina's family falls through all the cracks in the aid systems. "That's why the RISK Award is so important for Peñaflor," stresses Carlos Kaiser, director of ONG Inclusiva. He explains that even in countries that are considered resilient, many marginalised groups still need support whenever the social system cannot keep pace with economic developments. Things become particularly critical when disasters such as earthquakes strike. Then Kathalina's vulnerable world is at existential threat.

No easy solutions
Financial aid is one side of the coin that is addressed during the seminar. The other side involves real inclusion. Warnings against natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis are frequently sounded by acoustic signals. Deaf people or people with impaired hearing simply cannot be reached by such warnings. An apparently obvious solution would be to subtitle the news readers on TV news broadcasts. However, this does not always work, and fails by far to reach all deaf citizens, points out Victor Castillo from the "Pro Sordos" (For deaf people) association.

 
Victor Castillo from "Pro Sordos" explains that the most obvious solutions are not always the best solutions.

"Roughly 80% of deaf people do not understand abstract words and terms as they may have been unable to hear since birth and have never learned what the word "risk", for example, means. For them, much of our written language is of no value, as the words have no empirical meaning." Solely with the help of a certified sign language interpreter can these people be adequately warned in TV news broadcasts. Only in this way are they able to understand warnings, interpret their significance correctly and then react to the risks adequately. For television networks, this naturally means substantially larger outlays, not only in regard to staff but also to the costs for technical implementation. In addition to this, there is a lack of well-trained sign language interpreters in Chile. ONG Inclusiva is using the RISK Award to offer sign language courses to its volunteers. The deficit is to be quickly remedied in Peñaflor.

Role model USA?
Marcie Roth from the USA was invited as the keynote speaker to the seminar. She is director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) belonging to the United States Department of Homeland Security. In the USA, FEMA is responsible for risk reduction in the population. A strategic component of FEMA planning is the inclusion of people with disabilities. It has enough financial resources to remove infrastructure barriers in US towns and cities and to design warning systems that reach everyone. "We luckily have been provided with enough financial resources. In many places, however, it is the social barriers that prevent us from working successfully," says Marcie Roth decisively.

 
Marcie Roth (left), from FEMA, and Eduardo Jorquera, Peñaflor's risk manager, have met to discuss whether solutions from the USA can be applied to Chile.

People with disabilities are often not recognised as full and equal members of society. In her organisation, things are different: most of the members themselves live with different kinds of handicaps. This exactly is the point that Carlos Kaiser wants to arrive at: sufficient funding for inclusion projects to be able to address the real problem areas and reduce political and social barriers. By supporting the pilot project in Peñaflor, the RISK Award has made a valuable contribution to achieving this goal.

CB, 25 November 2015
 

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