Assistant Secretary-General, Excellencies, Distinguished colleagues,
I thank Assistant-Secretary-General Lenni Montiel, the Secretary of State from Belgium and Mrs. Daniela Bas for their interesting remarks and valuable contributions. Disability issues in critical situations have become more central in the international agenda after a recent series of major natural disasters, among which I recall: the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004; the Haitian earthquake in 2010; the great east Japan earthquake in 2011; Hurricane Sandy in the United States in 2012; the earthquake in Nepal and the cyclone in Vanuatu this year. Italy itself is a prone disaster country, uniquely exposed to a wide range of natural hazards.
So I join the previous speakers in welcoming you to this high-level panel discussion, which we were keen to organize to share best practices and discuss the challenges of crafting national and international responses to disasters and emergencies that pay proper attention to the specific requirements of persons with disabilities.
We must take a twofold approach to disasters and humanitarian emergencies or crises if we wish to get a realistic perspective on the subject. First, by comparison to the general population, persons with disabilities are more vulnerable and disproportionately affected. This stems from a lack of awareness and inaccessible evacuation, response and recovery efforts. In many disaster situations, the mortality rate of the population with disabilities is two to four times higher than that of the population without disabilities. The second aspect is that after natural disasters or humanitarian emergencies, many survivors are expected to live with long-term disabilities that result from their injuries.
Italy has traditionally placed a special focus on emergency situations and humanitarian crises. Art. 11 of the CRPD emphasizes mainstreaming the needs of persons with disabilities in the humanitarian responses of Member States, which are too often ignored in such contexts. The Action Plan on Disability, adopted by Italy in 2013 pursuant to CRPD Convention, established an ad hoc working group on “Emergency and humanitarian aid.” We are therefore now working to enhance the protection and inclusion of people with disabilities in humanitarian aid interventions through the preparation of guidelines on how to identify, formulate and implement humanitarian projects, taking into consideration the specific needs of people with sensorial, intellectual, mental and physical disabilities.
As you will hear later from our speaker, Italy’s engagement is not new. During the Italian Presidency of the EU, the protection of persons with disabilities in conflict and emergency situations was made a priority on the programme of the Council’s Working Group on Humanitarian Aid (COHAFA). COHAFA also discussed concrete operational aspects to be considered when designing the humanitarian response to conflict and emergency situations. A Presidency Concept Paper published in November 2014 identified opportunities for the EU and Member States to better protect persons with disabilities in emergencies, thus forming a basis for additional work on the topic under future Presidencies. This led – with the support of Latvia EU presidency – to the approval of a EU position paper at the Sendai World Conference on disaster risk reduction held last March. The “Sendai framework “include finally persons with disabilities as an important target in case of disaster.
I am sure this high-level panel discussion, with the contributions of experts from different parts of the world, will help us to make progress on this important agenda. Such progress is destined to improve the lives of persons with disabilities and ensure their full and well-deserved inclusion in every aspect of our societies.