4 Sep 2013

Call for recognition of disability as Pacific development issue

5:01 pm on 4 September 2013

An international charity working with disabled people in poor communities says unless governments recognise disability as a development issue those affected will continue to be neglected.

The president of the charity CBM says the Australian government has a specific disability inclusion policy for overseas aid but other governments, including New Zealand's, are yet to mainstream disability into their international development work.

Dave McComiskey says a joint report by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank estimates that 15 percent of the global population are living with disability.

He told Annell Husband in his experience, the lives of between 5 percent and 7 percent are severely impacted.

DAVE MCCOMISKEY: So if you, in your development or your aid programme, aren't addressing that, then you're not considering the whole situation. So at a very high level there needs to be a recognition that development needs to be inclusive of people with disabilities. And then at that local level, yes, we need to understand and research what the issues are. There are probably some issues that are across the pacific region that we can learn and grow together from. We're also looking, and have started to do some work on what we call 'Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction'. That's a very long title to say we want persons with disabilities to be included in any disaster response. We know they're going to happen, but how do we prepare them for that and make sure they're included in the response.

ANNELL HUSBAND: Because typically they are not included?

DM: No, it's been very difficult for organisations to even recognise that persons with disabilities are there. And then to know what's the correct way to help them, how to make sure that they're included in appropriate disaster response. We find throughout the developing world that often persons with disabilities, for various reasons, are hidden away. Some disabilities are hidden - mental illness is kind of a hidden disability. And often people just in regular development or in disaster response, don't know how to include those people in an appropriate response.

AH: The point that you make about people being shut away. You mention people with mental health issues. When I was recently in Solomon Islands, on Malaita, I was talking to a village elder who described that very scenario of this young man in his mid-20s who has been locked in a room for most of this life because it's not known what to do with him.

DM: Even in our so-called developed society, mental illness is still sometimes a taboo subject, and people don't know how to respond appropriately to it. But definitely the issue is less understood throughout the developing world and is a major problem. I've just lived in Kenya for the past year, and, there, people are shackled. They're almost like prisoners because people don't know how to help deal with mental health issues.