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Disaster preparedness for people with disabilities

Tuesday 18 April 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Local, National


Disaster preparedness for people with disabilities
Cook Islands Ombudswoman Niki Rattle, Cook Islands National Disability Council board member Moana Heather and co-chairperson of the Council Ngatokotoru Tara at the workshop yesterday. MELINA ETCHES/23041717

Advocating for the rights of persons with disability, capacity building and the preparations for pre and post disaster events were discussed at a workshop hosted by the Pacific Disability Forum (PDF) at the New Hope Church building yesterday.

The purpose of the project run in partnership with the Organisation for Persons with Disability (OPD) is to work closely with the partners so that all services, preparedness, response and recovery are covered if there is a disaster.

Katabwena Tawaka, the manager at the Humanitarian Resilience Development Unit of the Pacific Disability Forum, is conducting the workshop “face to face’ for the first time.

“We have had online discussions in the past that didn’t work out that well,” Tawaka said.

“It’s important to have the discussions then you can clearly see what are the different roles … what are the roles of government, what are the roles of Red Cross, Organisations for Persons with Disability. Once we are able to establish and understand your role and you play your role, the outcome will become inclusive.”

Tawaka says one of the biggest challenges is the understanding of disability. The workshop was also attended by persons with disability.

“We need to break that barrier, we know that there are families and friends here but the actual persons with disability are not here so how do we get them out and speaking about their challenges?

 “The more they speak about their challenges the better strategy planning one will be able to do.”

Tawaka also pointed out the accessibility to evacuation centres as one of the key issues for persons with disability.

“These are the things that need to be shared and discussed and once we all agree then let’s do amendments and adjustments.”

Tepola Rabuli, the programme officer for the Humanitarian Resilience Development Unit, said the project also focuses on the capacity of persons with disability and how to advocate for them on how they can work with other agencies at the national level.

Cook Islands National Disability Council chairpersons John Paul Lindsay and Ngatokotoru Tara were part of the workshop.

Tara said: “One thing that is really important is communication, knowing where things are and what is happening from the top.”

“When they say ‘collaboration’, but really, they’ve already made the decision for me and I do want to be at the table when these decisions are made and we know ourselves what we need.”

Cook Islands is one of the first Pacific countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on June 6, 1997 after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration completed a comprehensive review of existing legislation to ensure that the country’s law was in compliance with its provisions.

In the workshop, Cook Islands Ombudswoman Niki Rattle noted that Government needs to understand that “we are signed to the CRC and by signing up to these conventions there are obligations and the need to be able to dialogue with people…”

The workshop is funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).

The Pacific Disability Forum is the regional response to addressing disability issues in the Pacific. It was established in 2002 and officially inaugurated in 2004.