Guest Author - Jeanetta Polenske
It is estimated that there are 4.4 million disabled persons in Vietnam. It is a country with the most wheelchair users in the world. In addition, it is one of the top ten countries in the world for natural disasters. Recognizing that their current disaster plans have not adequately addressed the safe evacuation of the disabled, Vietnam has initiated a new project to remedy that situation.
The Disabled Persons Organization (DPO) and Malteser International has begun a two-year plan to improve the survivability of those with disabilities. Their focus is to include the disabled in disaster planning and train them in all aspects of early warning and evacuation.
Approximately 70% of the population live on or near rivers or in coastal regions. Typhoons and flooding are reoccurring threats with no appropriate response measures in place. There is little in the way of transportation away from the areas struck by natural disasters and no early warning system except through loudspeakers when a disaster is upon them.
The inclusion of the disabled means that the unique needs of people with disabilities will be considered while they are actively trained and involved in all aspects of planning. Part of that planning will involve an early warning system, setting up rescue teams and means of transportation to move the disabled from hazardous areas and training medical personnel to meet the specific needs of the disabled.
The Federal Foreign Office and Malteser International, a relief agency based in Malta, are financing the project. The German government has recently pledged $380,000 to help support the relief effort, particularly for the disabled in the central region of the Quang Nam Province where floods are a regular occurrence.
Malteser International is also heading the development of guidelines and training materials for the Community-Based Disaster Risk Management (CBDRM) project. Since the disabled population is the most vulnerable and least represented group in the country, their inclusion in this program will improve their community standing as well as their tenuous situation during national disasters.
The example being set by Vietnam could very well set precedence for other countries. The special needs of the disabled have not been fully regarded in respect to disaster planning. For the most part, people with disabilities have been trained to ready themselves, but have not had the opportunity to voice their needs to their communities during and following evacuation procedures. This is a tremendous and insightful plan on behalf of Vietnam and its partnered organizations in considering this aspect in protecting their population.