Articles

Disability-Inclusive Disaster Management in Nepal

August 2023 | NEPAL

The Right of Persons with Disability Act, 2017 and the Right of Persons with Disability Rules, 2020, were enacted to safeguard the fundamental rights and dignity of individuals with disabilities in Nepal. The Act aims to address existing discrimination and enable persons with disabilities to lead independent and respectful lives in order to foster an inclusive society. It empowers them to participate in policy-making and contribute to the overall development of the nation. It also caters to the unique needs of women and children with disabilities, ensuring access to concessions, education, and healthcare services.

However, a lack of comprehensive procedural guidelines and practical complications during implementation, affect the intended beneficiaries.

Intersections Between the Disaster Management Act, 2017 and the Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2017

The people of Nepal regularly face natural calamities such as floods, landslides, and winter fires, navigating which can be particularly challenging for disabled persons. The National Disaster Mitigation and Management Authority has estimated that 1.8 million people will be affected by floods in 2023[1] , of these 30-40% are disabled. Special technology and financial investment are necessary to make humanitarian aid and social security systems disabled-friendly to ensure proper post-disaster relief and rehabilitation. A comparative study conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) between disabled and non-disabled people affected by the April 2015 earthquake showed that in comparison to the 58% of non-disabled people impacted by the earthquake, the percentage of disabled persons affected was 66%[2].

With this in mind and in order to ensure effective coordination and management of all activities related to disaster risk reduction and management, the government enacted the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act 2017. It devised a strategic approach to effectively safeguard the interests of women, children, senior citizens, and persons with disabilities who are susceptible to disasters, through the establishment of an executive committee, mandated to develop and execute specialised plans and programs targeting these specific groups. Additionally, Section 39 of the Act also explicitly addresses the establishment of minimum standards for the distribution of relief to individuals affected by disasters, with a particular focus on ensuring the well-being and comfort of women, children, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. Local governments, too, have been entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring training on disaster management and running emergency operations when required.

However, a closer look at some of the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2017 reveals that they do not conform to the fundamental principles outlined in the preamble of the Disability Act. Despite there being a mandate to facilitate the participation of individuals with disabilities in local-level disaster management activities and during the creation of a list of materials to cater to their needs during pre-disaster preparation, these provisions encounter challenges at the time of implementation or are simply neglected. For instance, Section 16 of the Disaster Management Act, 2017 establishes the district disaster management committee, which consists solely of members from political parties, government officials, and security agencies, with no representation from the disabled community. As a result, individuals with disabilities encounter obstacles in accessing timely and appropriate care during a disaster, leading to a sense of neglect and disregard by the state. This is in addition to other barriers to the effective implementation of disability-inclusive disaster management measures, such as inadequate funding and limited awareness among stakeholders. For example, despite legal provisions, the budget for the fiscal year 2023-24 in Nepal does not allocate any financial resources to improve accessibility or enhance disaster management activities specifically tailored to people with disabilities.

Moreover, while the Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2017, and its corresponding rules provide for free treatment to vulnerable individuals such as persons with disabilities, the Disaster Management Act and its accompanying rules do not reflect similar provisions. This discrepancy between laws displays a lack of effort and initiative in understanding the unique needs of disabled persons by the government and worsens their marginalisation.

Therefore, it is imperative to synergistically enforce the provisions outlined in both the Disability Act and the Risk Management Act in order to ensure that development efforts are accessible and inclusive.

The Way Ahead

It is the fundamental right of persons with disabilities to be able to lead safe lives. Here are some recommendations for the government of Nepal to ensure their safety in the face of disasters:

1. Comprehensive Data Collection: There need to be collaborative efforts at all levels of the government to improve the organisation and management of statistics and information concerning disabled individuals.

2. Budgetary Allocation: In order to enable local governments to work autonomously, the central government must prioritise the rightful allocation of resources in the budget.

3. Inclusive Emergency Plans: Develop comprehensive emergency plans that explicitly address the needs of disabled individuals. These should include specific protocols for evacuation, transportation, and access to essential services during emergencies.

4. Accessibility Assessments: Conduct thorough assessments of public facilities, transportation systems, shelters, and evacuation routes to identify and eliminate barriers that may impede the safe evacuation and accessibility for disabled individuals.

5. Disability Awareness Training: Provide regular training sessions to emergency responders, volunteers, and community members to enhance their understanding of disability-related issues and ensure they are equipped to provide appropriate assistance and support to disabled individuals during emergencies.

6. Communication Strategies: Establish effective communication channels to disseminate emergency information in accessible formats, such as braille, sign language interpretation, visual aids, and easy-to-understand language. Use multiple communication platforms to reach a wider audience.

7. Personalised Emergency Plans: Encourage disabled individuals and their caregivers to create personalised emergency plans, taking into account their specific needs, medical requirements, and communication preferences. This should include important contact information, necessary medical supplies, and evacuation strategies.

8. Collaborative Partnerships: Foster collaborations between local government agencies, disability organisations, community groups, and emergency management authorities to ensure a coordinated and inclusive approach to emergency preparedness and response.

9. Regular Drills and Exercises: Conduct periodic drills and exercises that simulate emergency situations, with a focus on the participation and involvement of disabled individuals. This will help identify areas for improvement, build confidence, and familiarise all stakeholders with their roles and responsibilities.

10. Feedback Mechanisms: Establish feedback mechanisms to actively engage with disabled individuals, their families, and disability organisations to gather insights, experiences, and recommendations for improving emergency preparedness and response efforts.

If put into practice, these recommendations will enhance the safety and well-being of disabled individuals during emergencies and build a more inclusive and resilient community.

To ensure just rehabilitation of disabled individuals, collaborative efforts from government agencies at all levels, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and the private sector are essential, with the local government taking the lead.

It is imperative to incorporate disability considerations within all legislations concerning disaster risk reduction and management. Laws focusing on disability should encompass other marginalised groups such as women, Dalits, Madhesis, and senior citizens.

Developing a disability-friendly governance system through legal arrangements, institutional reforms, capacity development and formulating community-based disaster management initiatives which ensure active participation and engagement in the decision-making and implementation stages will promote a sense of belonging and inclusivity among individuals with disabilities, and ensure the realisation of their rights.


[1] A terrifying state of natural disaster, available at https://rajdhanidaily.com/id/42853/ accessed on 24th April 2023

[2] Sushil Darnal “Disable right not being implemented yet”, Available at https://kharibot.com/news-details/44485/kharibot


Ritesh Poudyal, Fellow, Economic Social and Cultural Rights Fellowship

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