Voices of people with disabilities must be heard in climate change adaptation debate

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16 May 2014

We need to strengthen the capacity of people with disabilities so they can access the resources needed to adapt to climate change, says the Kathmandu Declaration that was launched last month.

The Kathmandu Declaration, announced at the end of the 8th International Conference on Community Based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA8) in Nepal, calls for priority to be given to capacity building and for a radical shift in flows of finance to ensure the most vulnerable communities can adapt to a changing climate.

How to reach and meet the needs of the most vulnerable was the focus of many of the sessions and conversations at CBA8 in Kathmandu. One delegate from Pakistan really brought this issue to life for me by using the example of a project with disabled farmers in the Shaheed Benazir District.

Abid Lashari is president of the National Disability and Development Forum (NDF) Pakistan, the local partner involved in a capacity-building project on how to adapt to a changing climate through the use of alternate crops. 

Out of 100 farmers involved in the project, 13 are disabled. This is due to the high rate of polio in Pakistan, which can often lead to paralysis of the arms and legs. According to a World Health Organisation report published in 2011, there are more than one billion people with disabilities across the globe. This highlights why building the capacity of disabled people in the field of adaptation can't and shouldn't be overlooked.

The NDF worked with rice and cotton farmers to introduce alternate crops in an area that had experienced severe floods at harvest time for the previous three years. Rice and cotton are harvested in September and the floods wiped out these traditional cash crops, meaning the farmers suffered losses for three consecutive years.  

The solution was the introduction of alternate crops that are harvested before the September floods. With the support and advice from the NFD, and money from LEAD and UK Aid to buy seeds and fertiliser, the farmers can now grow vegetables and mustard seeds. Cotton is still grown, but the farmers are less dependent on it for their livelihoods and are more resilient to the increased rainfall and flooding that is now part of their everyday lives.

This was a pilot project and owes some of its success to the fact that these local adaption plans were decided by the farmers themselves, local government and key stakeholders. And how much did this cost? Just $300.

"There is a need for financial resources to scale up the project in other areas," Lashari points out. "There will be more floods and monsoons, so we will need to continue adapting, but we need finance to support this and to ensure that people with disabilities are included."

Finance is needed not just for the practical costs of adaption but for advocacy to convince the local communities of the importance of putting together local adaptation plans. The NDF advocacy work has amplified the voices of disabled people, but this advocacy costs money too.

Despite the obstacles and barriers faced, the final message from Lashari is positive. "Where there's a will, there's a way," he told me. I very much agree with this. But there needs to be money, too. 

More information: http://www.cba8.org.

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