February 8, 2023

Absence of a Disability Inclusive DRR framework, increasing vulnerability of PWDs

Bulk of women, children with disabilities undocumented./ Photo by NewsDay

Nozipho Rutsate

Disasters come, go or continue to live amongst us but in all their existence, People with Disabilities (PWDs) have always been on the periphery of being included in responding to disasters.

Amongst Zimbabwe’s 1.5 million people living with disabilities, according to figures released by the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH), an association of organizations of persons with disabilities, representation of the disabled community is at 2% or lower in government.

A young disability activist, Praise Ndebele explained in brief Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction (DIDRR) as a process that seeks to decrease occurrence of disasters, by reducing hazards in our communities and decreasing levels of vulnerability by increasing resilience in communities.

“PWDs have been left out in the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) implementation processes hence the vulnerability remain high. In line with the SDG agenda – leaving no one behind, we want to mainstream disability in all facets of development and life in general,” he said.

Ndebele also highlighted how information dissemination is important for PWDs to understand where they can position themselves in an inclusive disaster response.

“There is the Civil Protection Unit which offers disaster funds towards the vulnerable communities, but most PWDs are not knowledgeable of that information. Thereby, information dissemination is key to DRR issues and there should be disability inclusive,” said Ndebele.

President of the National Council of Disabled People in Zimbabwe (NCDPZ), Anna Shiri said PWDs deserve increased representation in decision making processes in all facets of life.

“PWDs contribute 15%+ of the population of Zimbabwe, hence nothing for us without us mantra remains critical in policy development, meaning inclusion of PWDs in Disaster Risk management committees” she said.

Leonard Cheshire Disability Zimbabwe’s Project Manager, Kudzai Makoni said DIDRR begins to question the involvement of PWDs in disaster response and the primacy of state party responsibility in disaster risk reduction.

“We are raising concerns on how much PWDs understand DRR and how vulnerable they are in that process. Other questions are about their resilience, are they all registered by government in a database for any cushioning benefits and are they one of the stakeholders participating in disaster response. Therefore, the need to strategize how this framework can be implemented to promote inclusivity in responding to disasters,” Makoni said.

PWDs among other vulnerable groups have been receiving grants and at times cushioning funds from government to help ease their financial hardships. However, of late, a Gweru-based disability activist, Nyasha Mahwende said, “the disability community have not received disability grants for the past 9 months and some PWDs have not benefited anything from the Covid-19 cushioning funds”.

In a statement issued by the Finance Minister, Mthuli Ncube in April 2020, government allocated a total payment of $200 million per month for the next three months for vulnerable people and on average the million beneficiaries were receiving a paltry $200 per month [in ZWDs].

“Vulnerable groups in our society are the most exposed under this COVID-19 crisis.  Accordingly, Treasury has set aside resources to cover one million vulnerable households under a Cash Transfer programme and payment will commence immediately. The Social Welfare Department will use its usual mechanisms to identify the beneficiaries,” said the statement.

The disability representative in parliament, Senator Watson Khupe, though appreciating efforts made by government to promote inclusivity of PWDs in our society, hopes that government keeps its promises and momentum high in implementation of disability inclusion at multiple levels including access to funds.

“There is a lot of talk from central government to assist PWDs with social protection but there have been some reports from communities raising issues of limited access to the cushioning funds.

“PWDs particularly in the hard to reach areas are losing out as some do not have funds to provide cellphones for themselves. For these PWDs, it would require government to assist in provision of cellphones to ensure the relief funds are accessible to all PWDs across the country,” said Senator Khupe.

When interviewed by the publication on the accountability of social protection funds in times of disasters such as the Covid-19 pandemic, Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee and Gweru Urban Member of Parliament, Brian Dube said ‘Social Protection and Disaster Preparedness’ is one critical issue that has not been addressed well.

“The Auditor General’s report on the use of Covid-19 resources in 2020 demonstrates the lack of transparency and accountability especially in three key Ministries that were implementing the project. One of them, Ministry of Labor and Social Services failed to produce clear list of beneficiaries and how they were identified. It seems the Ministry does not have accurate data of persons with disabilities, the most vulnerable groups and those in need of protection and assistance. They used an unreliable process of resorting to politicians writing lists and submitting. A big number of persons with disabilities didn’t benefit due to this,” he said.

When contacted for a comment, the provincial office of the Ministry of Labor and Social Services referred the matter to the Director whom has not yet responded until the time of publication.

Soneni Gwizi, the Action in Disability and Development International Ambassador and Disability Advocate said it was time to amplify the voices of people with disabilities as there are so many untold stories.

“This helps in making people with disabilities more visible and it creates an inclusive society that will have a positive attitude towards people with disabilities,” she said.

Nozipho Rutsate is a community development journalists and communications expert currently working at the Quadriplegic and Paraplegic Association of Zimbabwe. She writes in her personal capacity.