Creating an Inclusive Framework in the Field of Disaster Risk Reduction

When one thinks about Disaster Risk Reduction, very rarely does a layman include minority groups in their analysis. You may think about recent natural disasters and the lives and livelihoods lost. This field of study refers to the prevention of loss as much as possible during these natural hazards like earthquakes, floods, or hurricanes. The major document guiding these prevention principles is the Sendai Framework.

Following the Hyogo Framework for Action, the Sendai Framework, adopted in 2015 at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Japan, has four priorities when advocating for prevention and safety:

(i) Understanding disaster risk

(ii) Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk

(iii) Investing in disaster reduction for resilience and

(iv) Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response, and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

By investing in these, the international community has the ability to create a safer world for all. It includes seven specific strategies for accomplishing these goals and ensures continuing innovation in the field.

It also places emphasis on the vulnerable populations by creating a “persons centered approach”. For instance, persons with disabilities are mentioned six times throughout the document, older persons are mentioned twice, women are mentioned seven times, and children are mentioned three. This inclusion is reaffirmed by the Dhaka Declaration, which places particular emphasis on the validity of persons with disabilities and their role in minimizing disaster losses. This is particularly done by linking the Sendai Framework back to the SDGs, CRPD, and other frameworks for poverty reduction and elevation of the voices of marginalized groups like persons with disabilities.The Dhaka Declaration also uses a multi stakeholder approach, including “members from Governments, UNISDR, regional and international non-government organizations working on disability and disaster risk management, professionals and academicians, groups and organizations of persons with disabilities, bi-lateral and multi-lateral development agencies and other development sector representatives” as signatories to the declaration to bring all these different groups to the table. Other examples of inclusiveness in the Disaster Risk Reduction field is through the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (which advocates for solutions like International Sign Language Interpretation, remote participation, web conferencing with closed captioning, and more) and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR). By working with different groups and emphasizing the existence and participation of persons with disabilities, the field of Disaster Risk Reduction is not only able to be more effective, it continues to work on affording natural human rights to a marginalized work. Examples like these will encourage growth in the conversation about inclusiveness and become the guiding principles in the industry to follow through the inclusion of goal setting and concrete strategies to accomplish them. In the future, thinking about the prevention of loss following natural hazards, vulnerable populations like persons with disabilities will be so normalized that thinking about them comes automatically.

Multi Stakeholder Governance at the World Urban Forum

The World Urban Forum was created in 2001 by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 56/206 as a biannual event to discuss the global trend of urbanization and its impact on communities everywhere. In fact, according to the UN, “in 2016, an estimated 54.5 percent of the world’s population lived in urban settlements. By 2030, urban areas are projected to house 60 percent of people globally and one in every three people will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants”. This means that  building sustainable cities is an important issue that affects not only the majority of people, but people of marginalized groups across the board.

The WUF conference prides itself on its inclusive multistakeholder nature at the highest level, claiming that by bringing these groups to the table, conversations will be more productive and beneficial to those lives it wishes to help. Some of the included groups are “national, regional and local governments, non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, professionals, research institutions and academies, professionals, private sector, development finance institutions, foundations, media and United Nations organizations and other international agencies”. These groups all have an interest in sharing best practices and engaging in conversation about city planning to promote economic growth, accessibility, human rights, and more. They have a framework for participation in the General Assembly of Partners (GAP), but it is unfortunately expensive and constantly pulled in many directions at once. However, the major benefit is that all fourteen Partner Constituent Groups (PCGs) under the GAP contribute to the advancement of sustainable urbanization.

WUF9 will be held in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, in February of 2018. This location connects Asia back to WUF after a hiatus since the 2008 hosting of WUF in China. UN Habitat reports that it is also the first WUF conference to be held after the most recent Habitat conference in Quito. Building off work done at HabitatIII, WUF9 is to be called “Cities 2030, Cities for all: Implementing the New Urban Agenda”, specifically the role of technology in NUA. It brings together a multitude of frameworks by including the guidance of the SDGs and NUA, working towards four major goals: raising awareness of sustainable urbanization, improve collective knowledge, increase multi stakeholder cooperation, and incorporate those the inputs of multilateral organizations. The momentum gained through these conferences cannot slow down, instead using WUF9 as an opportunity to make real gains, networks, and a plan to implement the right to a city for every individual. By specifically including PCGs in the decision making process, sustainable urbanization becomes a grand challenge that actually looks attainable.

Making ICTs More Accessible

Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) are an ingrained part of today’s society, ranging from cell phones to computers to broadcast radios and more. It is impossible to live in the world without encountering an ICT in your daily life, especially in a developed country. This means that ICTs can become an extremely effective tool for battling obstacles for marginalized groups like persons with disabilities. For example, UNESCO claims that ICTs can be used in education for persons with disabilities by using them as tools to identify barriers, provide teacher training, identifying minimum standards and gaps in implementation, and more.

However, ICTs can also reinforce these barriers. This is especially due to the “Digital Divide”. The term “digital divide” refers to a difference in access based on economic and social systems in regards to ICTs. There have been several large scale projects on these divides. The first of these was the ITU sponsored Maitland Commission Report which discovered the missing link- the disparity in telecommunications access between developed and developing countries. The NTIA later published Falling Through the Net, showing the imbalance in internet access between urban and rural parts of the United States. Both concluded that these differences were intolerable and provided solutions to bridge the gap. These studies show the wide variety in digital divides and the heavier impact that marginalized communities feel such as where they live (like in these reports), their race, class, age, etc. The impact always falls the most on those already oppressed.

Because ICTs are a tool for both augmenting and breaking down widespread discrimination, access must be carefully observed for inconsistency. When reinforcement of gaps is found, concrete steps must be taken in order to limit impact. One such practical strategy can be found in the controversial McBride Commission Report, or Many Voices One World. This report advocates for the strengthening of national media to pursue democratization of communication, particularly in developing countries, in response to the imbalance in access to information. The WSIS and follow up WSIS+10 conferences also aimed to combat the digital divide between richer and poorer countries by increasing the multistakeholder process. Despite this work, digital divides still remain a rampant problem today, affecting many marginalized groups across the globe. The international community must continue to build on past work like these reports, shifting to a greater focus on what can be done in terms of practical solutions that bring affected groups to the forefront.

Using Sen’s Capabilities Approach to Tackle Disability Discrimination

Despite agreeing that for some reason, certain countries struggle to “catch up” to a Western standard of development, the word development itself means something different to all who hear it. There are competing theories of development ranging from Utilitarianism, Libertarianism, to the Rawlsian Theory of Justice and how to approach it like the direct approach, supplementary approach, and indirect approach.

To some, development is about economic growth. To others like Amartya Sen, development is defined more as consisting “of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency” or “the process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy” (Development as Freedom). This is the capabilities approach, meaning that instead of focusing on individual income as the goal, development work must expand to include social and economic arrangements (ie the facilities for education and healthcare) and political and civil rights (ie the liberty to participate in public discussion and scrutiny). This follows the Rawlsian Theory of Justice model where John Rawls argues that justice and freedom are not mutually exclusive, instead of building institutions based on the idea of the social contract instead of the Utilitarian approach of the greatest good for the greatest number, excluding the rest. He expands freedoms to include 1) political 2) economic and 3) social opportunities as well as 4) transparency and 5) protective security, which all work together to develop and support the plurality of institutions.

Similarly to Sen, Sumner and Tribe, in International Development Studies, view development as three, inter-related views on development. These are 1) Long-term process of structural change in the international system, 2) Short to medium-term poverty reduction and MDGs , and 3) Development as discourse (a set of ideas; that shapes/frame reality).

Because the state must be in a supporting role to give people the agency to build these institutions, it is interesting to look at Sen’s approach in regards to inclusive development for persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities often do not have these freedoms and do not have the ability to achieve the lives they have reason to value under the capabilities approach. By using Sen’s and Sumner and Tribe’s views on development, disability rights activists have a guiding framework with which to engage in conversation on a higher level.

The Major Groups Framework Contribution to Intersectionality

Without committing to intersectionality, advocacy cannot act at its fullest potential. This term refers to how systems of oppression compound under identities of race, gender, class, ability, etc. This originates in feminist thought by Kimberle Crenshaw, a black legal scholar, in 1989 with the idea that the patriarchal system works alongside other societal constructs, but can and should be used when shaping larger policy frameworks in general.

One way this is accomplished is through the creation of the 9 Major Groups Framework in order to have greater inclusion to the formal UN process at the Earth Summit in UNGA Resolutions 66/288 and 47/191. These groups include Women, Children and Youth, Farmers, Indigenous people, NGOs, Trade Unions, Local Authorities, Science and Technology, and Business and Industry. These groups have benefits by being included at the table. For example, the official representative of these groups can register for conferences, intervene in official meetings, make recommendations, they can submit papers, comments, etc on topics discussed, they receive allotted time to speak, etc. This is a major advancement; however, there are also limitations to this framework by excluding stakeholders such as persons with disabilities and older persons. Although higher inclusion makes it more difficult to support the general groups, the HLPF’s overseeing of SDG implementation allows for the inclusion of the 16 identities under the MGoS framework through the UNGA Resolution 67/290.

Despite typically thought of as progress, the intersectionality of identities can be used to dampen specific voices like persons with disabilities under the idea that their voices can be heard in the other major groups. By using a multi stakeholder framework, the breadth of perspectives and identities heard can only improve the impact of policies, even if it takes longer to go through at first. This is another case where unintended consequences must be taken into consideration when creating and contributing to policy work. Scholarship and dialogue about intersectionality has flourished in recent years, allowing for greater counteraction to those systems of dominance and oppression.

Inclusive Education: Research to Implementation

SDG 4 “Quality Education” and CRPD article 24 for “Inclusive Education” work together to create a quality education system that is accessible to the needs of all. In fact, article 24 defines its goals as “ directed to:  

  1. The full development of human potential and sense of dignity and self-worth, and the strengthening of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and human diversity;
  2. The development by persons with disabilities of their personality, talents and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential;
  3. Enabling persons with disabilities to participate effectively in a free society.”

SDG 4 defines its goal more broadly as “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”, but also includes specific targets and indicators for implementation. These international frameworks guide and unify behavior on the part of States and non-state parties like civil society and the private sector. This is necessary because as a marginalized group, persons with disabilities face barriers in transportation, employment, education, political representation, and access to ICTs.

Much has been done to implement action on the part of the grand challenge of accessible and inclusive education. For example, the G3ict has produced a “Model Policy for Inclusive ICTs in Education for Persons with Disabilities” discussing the implementation of the CRPD articles 9 (Accessibility), 21 (Freedom of Expression and Opinion, and Access
to Information), and 24 (Inclusive Education) explicitly for policy makers. In fact, the World Report on Disability 2011 estimates that there are between 93 and 150 million school-aged children with disabilities globally, making this a active and urgent field. Their ideal policies include mainstream technologies like computers and cell phones that contain in-built accessibility features, assistive technologies like screen readers, alternative keyboards, augmentative and alternative communication devices, etc, videos with captioning, DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) books, EPUB, etc., and more.

The ASEAN region, where an estimated 400 million persons with disabilities reside, is particularly active in disability work. These 10 countries include Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, and more. UNICEF’s 2003 report evaluates education policies like the those of the Royal Thai Government, the Golden Key Project in China, and the Disability Action Council in Cambodia.

The Institute for Disability and Public Policy, or IDPP, has worked heavily in this area as well by using its function as a virtual organization to use technology and cyber learning to drive accessibility through the creation of a virtual graduate institute in conjunction with a large network all over the world. This work offered a fully online Masters of Public Policy through AU (the first of its kind), continuing education through certificate programs, workshops, and capacity building, etc.

The research produced by the organizations is invaluable, but only if it is actually implemented. As with the ASEAN region’s Incheon Strategy “Make the Right Real Campaign”, the knowledge of existing gaps must be used in order to actually increase living standards of persons with disabilities and bringing them to the table in how education is actually used.

Limitations of the MDGs

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), active from the UN Millennium Summit in 2000 to 2015, have been an important global framework for how state and nonstate actors address poverty reduction. The Goals successfully created a unifying framework to guide behavior around project premises, set norms and values, allow for an exchange and evaluation of best practices, start highly visible dialogue about new topics, etc.

One major limitation is access to the table of influence in the creation of the framework itself. If one does not understand the systems or cannot attend because of the financial burden, their ideas and values are automatically discluded from the conversation. Those able to attend and access Prep Coms must have the resources to be able to do so, so these resource disparities limit access to setting the agenda in a huge way. Before the major groups and other stakeholders framework, non-state actors had much less influence altogether.

Persons with disabilities are one group that was majorly left out of the MDG framework. By not including persons with disabilities, Kett, Lang, and Trani claim that the international community cannot achieve its goals of poverty reduction and human rights under the MDGs. There hasn’t been a lot of substantial research done on the subject, so the lack of information makes it hard to create inclusive policies and frameworks that really benefit the disability community. Janet Lord, a representative of the Landmine Survivors Network, indicates an example of doing this well was a recent decision to “give 12 seats on the Working Group that will formulate a negotiating text to NGO representatives”, which increases access to civil society and the agency of persons with disabilities as well as the outcome document of the 2013 HLPF meeting, which focuses on the lack of inclusion for persons with disabilities in the MDGs and how to correct for that going forwards.

Monitoring and implementation is another huge issue for the MDGs because the Goals are not legally binding. Rhetorical commitments and actual practices and implementation often have a huge disparity,  Caoimhe de Barra. A large part of this is because the MDGs set outcomes without elaborating on the process by which to get there. Deepak Nayyar highlights these limitations by discussing the multiplicity of objectives, particularly emphasized in the difficulty in contextualizing the Goals in different local and country settings.

Every framework has its limitations and its opportunities for success. By raising awareness of the MDG limitations, newer frameworks like the SDGs are able to correct for some of these failures by including 11 mentions of persons with disabilities. In the future, hopefully there will be an response to the increasing demand for accountability and access to the table.

Implementation of NUA and its mindsets

“Unnecessary barriers continue to limit disabled people’s mobility and access to public resources; planning practitioners have failed to fully recognize the enabling or disabling powers of physical space” –Victor Pineda. Pineda argues that one is only disabled in respect to an environment, pushing for mainstreaming of disabled persons’ needs in everyday accessibility. This line of thinking directly influenced the global conversation about Smart Inclusive Cities and urban development in international policy making and guidance like Habitat III.

Habitat III was the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador, October 2016, focusing on sustainable urbanization. Building off of the 1996 Habitat II in Istanbul, Habitat conferences decide strategic frameworks for the next 20 years. Habitat III also welcomed the participation of all stakeholders, including the general assembly of partners (GAP). UNDESA, who is responsible for economic and social activities in the UN, reports that “urban areas are projected to house 60 per cent of people globally” by 2030, making this a crucial area for accessibility.

The New Urban Agenda (NUA) was Habitat III’s outcome document, which commits itself to preparing for a sustainable and equal urban future that includes “the rights and needs of women, children and youth, older persons and persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples and local communities, as appropriate, and to those of others in vulnerable situations”. This document is, instead, a call to action. NUA epitomizes the UN process as well: all influencers had the chance to contribute to the outcome document, but their last opportunity to do so was the Surabaya draft in Indonesia. This means the conference of Habitat III itself is actually an opportunity to discuss implementation, despite the general perception that the conference is where the outcome document is written. WUF9, held in Malaysia, also focuses on implementation of NUA goals, particularly banding around the role of technology. Its goals were 1) to advocate and raise awareness of sustainable development, 2) to improve collective knowledge, 3) to increase coordination and cooperation, and 4) to create a platform to incorporate the input of different organizations.

However, the representative nature of NUA is limited by those who are at the table. Despite the multi-stake holder involvement of Partner Constituent Groups (PCGs), civil society members must have rare ECOSOC accreditation to participate. Plus, the GAP started with the UN’s 9 major groups, slowly expanding to 16 (most recently, persons with disabilities); the GAP is pulled in many directions and is expensive, limiting access. Monitoring progress becomes even harder because NUA is not legally binding. These show that there is a long way to go for representation. Implementation of the progressive vision of the New Urban Agenda will require even higher multi-stakeholder buy in and a cultural mainstreaming of Pineda’s mindset that the only limit of a disabled person is their environment. It is the duty of the UN, complemented by the private and civil society sectors, to change that.

Monitoring the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were established in 2015 as a way to unify the international community and guide UN member states objectives. As such, it’s a multi-stakeholder objective including states (with countries from both the global north and global south) and non-states (including the private sector, IGOs, and civil society). The UN charter’s preamble states that the UN pledges “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person… to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. This was reaffirmed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Through the creation of 17 Global Goals with 169 targets, the UN persists in following these ideals. These include everything from quality education to gender equity to economic growth.

One prominent SDG is Goal 4, or “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, with ten targets and eleven indicators. Some targets are easier to measure than others, such as “4.2.2: Participation rate in organized learning (one year before the official primary entry age), by sex”. Others are more vague and harder to measure like “4.7.1: the extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development, including gender equality and human rights, are mainstreamed at all levels…”. These indicators are supposed to increase monitoring and accountability capacities from the preceding MDGs, but this ability depends more on the clarity of the targets and indicators themselves rather than the mere presence of them. The 2017 SDG 4 progress report addresses areas where the world is still lacking, specifically attacking efforts “in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia and for vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities, indigenous people, refugee children and poor children in rural areas”.

The HLPF, or the high level performance forums, is yet another way to monitor progress. This body of heads of states implementing the SDGs meets annually under ECOSOC and every four years under the UNGA- it is known as the most inclusive and participatory forum at the UN as the MGOS (major groups and other stakeholders) are able to hold side events, attend and intervene in all official meetings of the forum; have access to all official information and documents, make recommendations, and more. These major groups are women, children, farmers, indigenous people, local authorities, businesses, civil society, and workers and trade unions- this framework is broadened by the more recent addition of other stakeholders, like persons with disabilities. However, this inclusivity is still limited to those with ECOSOC accreditation. Rimmerman, the author of Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, argues especially that persons with disabilities still are limited in participation both in UN function and in society worldwide. The HLPF and other monitoring measures must remember to take into account the lived experiences of individuals rather than keep working on such a macro scale.

The Grand Challenge of Disability and Development

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people….We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” John F. Kennedy announced at Rice University on September 12th, 1962. And we did- America landed on the moon that same decade on July 20th, 1969. That is the original “moonshot thinking”, or the idea that we must tackle ambitious, impossible projects in order to create change.

“Grand Challenges” encapsulates moonshot thinking, although the term itself is credited to David Hilbert, who laid out 23 mathematical questions at the International Mathematical Congress in Paris in 1900.  Those original Grand Challenges detailed “technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solution” (as defined by Lewis Branscomb) and challenged a cross-section of experts to work together on solutions.  While traditionally focusing on science and technology, Branscomb and others instead favor larger societally-focused projects. Their vision of the Grand Challenges conceptual framework has been embraced by USAID, the White House, and the UN. Examples of programs oriented on the Grand Challenges framework include the USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s partnership on Ensuring Effective Health Supply Chain as well as other USAID projects like Scaling Off Grid Energy, Combating Zika and Future Threats, and All Children Reading.

The Grand Challenge is Sustainable Development Goals and its preceding Millennium Development Goals. The Sustainable Development Goals are a 15 year plan to tackle Grand Challenges across 17 different issue areas established in 2015. This look at systemic challenges worldwide creates an alternative mindset to development. In fact, they have become key in defining how we think about program effectiveness by giving targets and indicators to meet. These goals provide a unifying framework for state and nonstate actors worldwide to enact progress.

The SDGs made the UN framework more inclusive by including the grand challenge of disability and development with eleven explicit references to persons with disabilities. This is important because it will guide behavior by states. This has been furthered by high level work such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2006 that shifted conceptual thinking from disabilities as a medical condition to a human right, which creates opportunities and higher equity for the traditionally marginalized 15% of every country’s population. This is an important step towards to true equality. While public policy focused on the inclusion of disabled persons may not spark the same initial general interest level as landing on the moon, it is surely a moonshot idea to radically shift how we think, talk, and create policy for this excluded group. This opens a window for a population whose potential contributions to society have been dismissed.