© UNESCO/P. Wiggers

Living with Disability and Disasters

Loss of lives, suffering and damage due to disasters in many parts of the world are a constant reminder of our vulnerability to natural hazards.

Yet much of these tragic consequences could be avoided through risk awareness and assessment, improved environmental management and urban planning, preparedeness and education, to name a few. Disaster risk reduction is about understanding our personal and environmental risks of a hazard and finding ways to reduce this risk so that we are not affected by them, or are able to recover quickly.

Disasters must be an opportunity to challenge prejudice and discrimination and to ‘build back better,’ by ensuring the inclusion of all women and men. Adults and children living with disabilities have an essential role to play in strengthening resilience before and after disasters.    

       Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

On 13 October, we celebrate the International Day for Disaster Reduction as a reminder that disaster resilience must be a development priority in all parts of the world. This year, the International Day for Disaster Reduction focuses on the approximately one billion people who live with some form of disability, and their vulnerability to disaster.

Persons living with disabilities are among the most excluded in society, and their plight is magnified when a disaster strikes. Not only are they less likely to receive the aid they need during a humanitarian crisis, they are also less likely to recover in the long-term. Representing one-fifth of the world's population, persons living with disabilities offer unique contributions, often overlooked, to help reduce the risk of disasters and build resilient societies and communities.


Facts and Figures

More than 226 million people are affected by disasters every year. Over the last 40 years, most of the 3.3 million deaths caused by disasters occurred in poorer nations.

In 2000-2010, over 680,000 people died in earthquakes. Most of these deaths, due to poorly-built buildings, could have been prevented.

Less than 0.7 per cent of total relief aid goes to disaster risk reduction, although every dollar spent on preparedness saves 7 dollars in response.

Between 2002 and 2011, there were 4,130 recorded disasters from natural hazards around the world, in which more than 1.117 million people perished and a minimum of US$1,195 billion was recorded in losses.

In East Asia and the Pacific, the risks of dying from floods and cyclones have decreased by two thirds since 1980.

Featured projects

Developing inclusive Early Warning Systems and response mechanisms
UNESCO’s Disaster Risk Reduction Platform works to reduce the potential impacts of natural disasters, by  enhancing public awareness through education and communication, and strengthening observation and early warning system networks.
The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission is leading a global effort to establish ocean-based tsunami warning systems around the world. These four regional systems were created to evaluate risks, address vulnerabilities, plan a response, issue and transmit alert messages and educate the populations exposed to tsunami risks.

Working with and for Youth with Disabilities
Within the renewed strategic objectives on youth, UNESCO's Programme for Social and Human Sciences is increasingly focusing on the situation of youth with disabilities to enable them to develop their skills and access opportunities to engage as fully-fledged actors for development and peace in their communities.

Access to knowledge for people with disabilities
Information and communication technologies (ICT) have the potential for making significant improvements in the lives of people living with disability, allowing them to enhance their social and economic integration in communities by enlarging the scope of activities available to them.

Inclusive education
UNESCO promotes inclusive education policies, programmes and practices to ensure equal education opportunities for persons with disabilities, enabling them to exercise their right to access the best possible knowledge to protect themselves.

Protecting World Heritage
World Heritage properties are also exposed to natural and man-made disasters which threaten their integrity and may compromise their values. The loss or deterioration of these outstanding properties would negatively impact local and national communities, both for their cultural importance as a source of information on the past and a symbol of identity, and for their socio-economic value.