Earthquake relief efforts in Syria should not overlook people with disabilities


Shahd, a 12-year-old girl with a hearing impairment, stands in front of a window overlooking her father, in the house where her family lives, Azaz, Aleppo, Syria. Credit: Human Rights Watch.
  • Opinion by Emina Cerimovic (New York)
  • Inter Press Service

Looking at her picture made me think of the additional human rights violations Sham will experience based on her disability. She will join all children with disabilities surviving Syria’s 12-year conflict without equal access to humanitarian aid.

And so have others who suffered traumatic physical and psychological injuries in the aftermath of the earthquakes: a girl who spent 30 hours under rubble in the hard-hit town of Jindires in northwestern Syria and lost both her legs; a 3-year-old boy in Jinderis who was detained for 42 hours and had his left leg amputated; a young Syrian man living in Gaziantep, Turkey, whose right hand has been amputated.

As issues surrounding access to humanitarian aid to various affected parts of Syria dominate the news, relief efforts must not ignore the short- and long-term needs of people with disabilities and the thousands of earthquake survivors who have suffered physical and psychological injuries which can lead to permanent disabilities. .

When two more powerful earthquakes hit the region on February 20, panic and fear spread among earthquake survivors in both Syria And Turkeybringing into sharp focus the psychological trauma caused by the natural hazard and, for Syrians, by more than 12 years of war.

In Syria, it is estimated that about 28 percent of the current population – almost double the global average – has a disability, and their rights and needs are largely unmet. As I found in my September report on the increased risk of harm and lack of access to basic rights for children with disabilities involved in the Syrian war, the design and implementation of humanitarian programs in Syria do not take into account the specific needs of children with disabilities. In some cases, such programs explicitly exclude them.

For example, some educational activities and child-friendly spaces have excluded children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Children with disabilities grow up without security, basic needs, education, resources or psychosocial support, in a way that puts their lives and rights at risk.

They experience stigma, psychological damage and higher levels of poverty. The situation is no better for adults with disabilities, who also face systematic difficulties in accessing humanitarian services on an equal basis with others.

This crisis should serve as a wake-up call for UN agencies, donor countries, humanitarian organizations and charities to respond appropriately to all children’s rights by ensuring that the rights and needs of children with disabilities are also met.

They should develop and implement their response and recovery action plans with a focus on people with disabilities. The focus and investment in children – like Sham – and adults with disabilities will strengthen human rights for all.

© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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