Frequently facing pre-existing health problems and mobility issues, and too often isolated from their broader community, people with disabilities are profoundly vulnerable to climate disasters like hurricanes, flooding, extreme heat, and wildfire, a reality that policy-makers must recognize and act upon, according to a recent letter in the journal Science.
“The international research community has made good progress at including vulnerable groups such as poor communities, women, Indigenous people, and youth in recent international conversations about global environmental change, but disabled populations have been mostly absent from the conversation,” write Aleksandra Kosanic, professor of ecology at the University of Konstanz in Germany, and three other researchers. They warn that climate change will further isolate an already profoundly marginalized population.
“Compromised health may make people more vulnerable to extreme climate events, ecosystem services loss, or infectious disease exposure, and those with disabilities are more likely to have difficulties during required evacuations or migrations,” they write, citing the harrowing experience of the 155,000 people with physical and cognitive disabilities affected by Hurricane Katrina when it devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005.
“Awareness is beginning to improve,” writes Scientific American, with the United Nations Human Rights Council adopting a resolution in July that explicitly affirms the rights of “persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations” in the context of the escalating climate emergency.
But Kosanic and her colleagues urge the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) to do far more “to address the critical implications of climate change and biodiversity loss for disabled populations”.