People with special needs must be involved in the design of climate change policies, a panel of speakers at the World Economic Forum in Davos said on Friday.
During an open forum titled “In Case of Fire, Use Stairs,” the panel said that people with special needs, who number more than 1 billion around the world, were among those most affected by climate change.
The speakers stressed the need to create emergency response plans and infrastructure that cater to such people during natural disasters.
UAE Minister of Community Development Hessa Bint Eisa Buhumaid made reference to the operations carried out to save people with special needs during the floods in her country in July, in which seven people were killed and thousands were affected.
The UAE government used an emergency strategy set out during the COVID-19 pandemic to execute the “quick and immediate” evacuation of people with special needs, she said.
Although the strategy was designed to help deal with future pandemics, it also allowed authorities to effectively manage the natural disaster, she added.
People with special needs should be at the core of policymaking and strategies should be put in place to manage crises related to climate change, Buhumaid said.
She also referred to the UAE’s National Policy for Empowering People of
Determination, which was drawn up after consultations with people with
special needs, their families, caregivers and local communities.
UAE Minister of Community Development Hessa Bint Eisa Buhumaid.
Designing a policy for people with special needs would help to ensure the sustainability of action, she said.
“This policy needs to be engraved within a country’s national strategy. What ensures a long-term impact and sustainability of projects is policies.”
Swiss author Christoph Keller highlighted the additional threat climate crises posed to people with special needs.
“It’s climate catastrophes, not just change, because we can adapt to change in a much slower way, but we talk about floods, monsoon, earthquakes and fires that put lives at risk. For people with special needs, it’s even more threatening,” he said.
Ashleigh Streeter-Jones, a community champion at Melbourne Hub, stressed the need to ensure people with special needs were at the heart of the decision-making process and not just on the periphery.
“No decision about us without us,” she said. “We can’t incorporate people’s perspectives without speaking to them.”
Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said that climate change had had a disproportionate impact on people with special needs as well as those from indigenous communities, and that such groups must be fully represented at every level of society.
New technologies should be used to ensure accessibility and support for people from vulnerable communities in the event of a natural disaster, she added.
“We don’t know to what extent climate change will continue to intensify, so we have to be intensive and strategic. We don’t have to wait until the disaster happens, but we need to think ahead of time.”