Sunday, February 20, 2005

Data on tsunami-hit disabled people in Sri Lanka not available

An article by Nimna Edirisinghe (Sunday Island)
20th February 2005

No one has so far collected data on disabled people who have been affected by the tsunami and a long term rehabilitation programme had not been introduced for their welfare, Premadasa Dissanayake, president of Rehab Lanka claimed at a press conference on ‘Equity in Development’ organised by Development with Disabled Network.

"The tsunami disaster affected disabled persons in many ways. They have lost their loved ones who took care of them and they are now neglected among the displaced population. They have also lost their assistive devices and their health care programmes have been interrupted," he said pointing out that most of these disabled victims have difficulties in accessing the emergency registration systems.

"In addition, these disabled persons have lost their livelihood and people who provided for them. Most of them are facing mental trauma. We must do something for them", he said blaming governmental institutions of neglecting these issues.

"At present, any consideration for physically handicapped people had been merely restricted to collecting information. This is an unfortunate situation as they seem to consider us as secondary citizens," he said.

"Information is a vital component in long term planning. Still relief and rebuilding plans have not been given any emphasis to reach and fulfil basic and specific needs of many affected disabled persons. Most disabled tsunami victims have moved to houses of their relatives or hospitals as the camps for displaced does not cater to their needs. Lack of information and difficulties in accessing them are the main reasons for this," Dissanayake said.

He emphasised the necessity to share the information available in different NGOs and ensure that people with disabilities are integrated to society and the mainstream of development.

"If proper attention is not paid to around 16,000 people injured and around 15,000 pregnant mothers affected by tsunami, the number of people with disabilities in Sri Lanka could rapidly increase," he warned stressing that a dialogue on issues, needs and the importance of inclusion of disabled people in the rebuilding process should be initiated.

"People with disabilities should actively involve in the development process by promoting employment opportunities for them. Ensuring education for children with disabilities and effective implementation of the National Policy on Disability are also important. Rebuilding efforts can be used as an opportunity to address access mobility issues of disabled people."

A consortium of Disability Organisations comprising of the Disability Organisations Joint Front, Motivation, The Spinal Injuries Association, Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), Handicap International, Christoffel Blindenmission (CBM) and John Grooms has launched ‘Access for All’ campaign to promote the inclusion of disabled people in all relief, reconstruction and development programmes in the wake of tsunami. They plan to meet all the political party chief organisers to raise awareness on the importance of architectural access in all construction and take measures to make it legally enforceable.

The consortium urged that steps be taken to incorporate the regulation on accessibility for persons with disabilities into legislature, which had not been done so far though the amendment to Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act No. 28 of 1996 was approved by Parliament in October 2003.

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