The Pacific Disability Forum is urgently calling on all emergency responders and stakeholders to ensure that persons with disabilities are not overlooked during the recovery process.
Chief Executive, Setareki Macanawai stresses that the volcanic eruption last weekend in Tonga has seen persons with disabilities more vulnerable as is the case during a natural disaster with many being left without access to safe drinking water as well as access to mobility devices, medication, evacuation, and support. He further adds that their safety is paramount.
As Humanitarian actors mobilize to assist people in Tonga affected by the recent underwater volcano off Tonga which erupted on Saturday, the Pacific Disability forum is calling on all stakeholders to ensure that persons with disabilities are also taken into account during the scoping and relief efforts.
The volcanic eruption in Tonga has intensified the vulnerability of persons with disabilities.
Accessibility which contributes to the independence of persons with disabilities has also been affected in Tonga. During the volcanic eruption, persons with disabilities and their family members fled to higher ground however many of then areas in which they fled to were not accessible. Many evacuation centers that they were taken to may not be fully accessible for them to be able to move around.
It is also noted that assistive devices which support the direct participation of persons with disabilities are also impacted. It is during times of natural disaster that the mobility devices of persons with disabilities are left behind as they flee for their lives. The question now is whether any of the persons with disabilities in Tonga are able to access this service.
Support services such as sighted guides, sign language interpretation or even sighted guides may not be available at this point in time to persons with disabilities in Tonga.
During natural disasters, persons with disabilities are discriminated upon especially when it comes to accessing food rations, relief supplies and services as well as other humanitarian aid. It is important that any development in the community is inclusive of persons with disabilities especially as persons with disabilities have specialist needs and need to be approached and included to ensure that no one is left behind.
The eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano saw a tsunami sweep through the capital of Tonga and reach as far as Fiji and Peru wreaking havoc and leaving many stranded. As such, the situation on the ground has been further compounded with the presence of thick ash which is making water sources unreliable and inaccessible.
The Tongan Bureau of Statistics has confirmed that the country has over four thousand persons with disabilities from the age of five years and above with the Island kingdom having a 4.6% disability prevalence rate.
The Pacific Disability Forum is calling on all stakeholders to work closely with organizations of persons with disabilities namely – Tonga National Visual Impairment Association (TNVIA), the Tongan National Disability Council (TNDC), Lavame’a Ta’e’iloa Disabled People’s Association (LATA) and Naunau ‘o e ‘Alamaite Tonga Association (NATA).
Request is being specially made to ensure that persons with disabilities are included in the response efforts for targeted and inclusive programs and actions which will enable effective participation of persons with disabilities and also save time, funding and also strengthen reports.
Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned.
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