Climate change is a double whammy for people with disabilities

Pratyush Nalam, a software professional in Hyderabad, India

HYDERABAD — Pratyush Nalam, a software professional in this south-central Indian city that has become a global tech outpost for Silicon Valley, navigates his home in a wheelchair. He suffers from muscular dystrophy and cannot walk, so his family members help him.

Although the monsoon season in Hyderabad brings lots of rainfall from late June to early October, scientists say the rains are getting even heavier due to climate change. And that, says Nalam, makes life harder for people than the heat of summer or the chills of winter.

“Getting to a dry place quickly is a challenge,” Nalam says of the increasing challenge he faces getting around. “Bus stops have no shelters and are far from accessible – and accessible transport is not available in most cases.”

The combined adverse effects of a lack of inclusive planning or early warning systems, fewer information and transportation options, and overall discriminatory attitudes have driven up the global death rate of people with disabilities who are victims of disasters. up to four times higher than that of people without disabilities. disabled, according to a Lancet report.

Nalam said that during heavy rains “we cannot see the bumps in the roads or pavements which makes it more risky to drive our wheelchairs.”

Increasingly hot standards

Summer in India has temperatures that regularly climb up to 30°C.

Europe has suffered wildfires, evacuations and heat-related deaths this summer, as heat waves force temperatures above 40 degrees C in places like Portugal and France – only slightly warmer than the hottest season in Hyderabad, where temperatures regularly climb into the low 30s during the pre-monsoon summer from late March to early June.

Yet a devastating heat wave that scientists say has been made more likely by climate change has swept through India and Pakistan in recent months, with some cities in the two neighboring countries reaching around 45-50C.

Across Europe and Asia, record high temperatures have tested daily life, posing serious health risks to families, students, business people and travellers. As with most other natural and man-made disasters, the people who suffer the most are those who are most marginalized.

“Extreme heat is the root of every catastrophic event we know of, from wildfires and droughts to hurricanes, storm surges and floods,” said Wendy Nystrom, disaster management consultant. environmental and pollution risks in Los Angeles.

Among the most affected by climate change

Aunia Kahn

People with disabilities are often among the hardest hit by climate change, as are the disproportionately higher morbidity and mortality rates they experience in emergencies, while also being among the least able to achieve emergency help.

“I feel like I’m always living in a bubble. I’m allergic to heat and cold and that makes me very vulnerable to climate change,” said Aunia Kahn, owner of a disabled American business in Eugene, Oregon. , which fights against rare chronic diseases such as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Dysautonomia.

Some disability conditions are disproportionately affected by global warming. For example, people with spinal cord injuries cannot cool down during excessive heat while people with multiple sclerosis experience more pain and fatigue in hot weather.

About 15% of the world’s population has a disability, according to the World Bank reported. Many of the people accompanying them also live in extreme poverty, increasing their vulnerability to climate change due to a general lack of sanitation, healthcare, nutrition or clean water.

“The Earth is getting warmer and global warming is the main reason for extreme heat waves. The heat intensity increases and reduces the quality of our lives,” said Dr Roxy Mathew Koll of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune, India. “The vulnerable are those who are most affected.

Dr. Roxy Mathew Koll

A growing human rights issue

But the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment should be the same for all, regardless of differences such as caste and creed, the United Nations General Assembly determined in a historic decision resolution approved at the end of July.

Assembly vote 161-0 with eight abstentions from Belarus, Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Syria gives momentum to activists’ work and citizens seeking greater legal and regulatory protection.

This followed a 43-0 vote on a similar resolution last October at the UN’s 47-nation Human Rights Council – with China, India, Japan and Russia standing abstained.

Lack of mobility in an emergency is life threatening

People with disabilities, women and children in South Asia and Africa are more vulnerable to severe weather events like heat waves, floods, cyclones and storm surges, experts say.

Indeed, they have less access to information on climate adaptation, rarely benefit from government aid and have fewer economic privileges than men.

And extreme weather events like cyclones and floods escalate in a very short time, leaving people with disabilities little time to get to safety, according to Koll.

“People with disabilities, especially those with mobility issues, have a limited ability to respond to emergencies during an extreme weather event,” he said.

But only 10% of people with disabilities believe their local government has emergency, disaster management or risk reduction plans that meet their access and functional needs, according to a United Nations study report. And only 20.6% said they could evacuate without difficulty in the event of a sudden onset disaster, according to an online survey by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

climate change
A hot day in Hyderabad

For the elderly and the young, climate change presents challenges. Vishnu Kumar, a 75-year-old from Hyderabad, suffered a paralytic stroke three years ago and has been confined to a bed and wheelchair ever since. As with many older people, the excessive heat zaps her energy and the frequent power cuts only increase her discomfort, adding to the friction in her family.

And for student Rohit Reddy, eczema and allergies have worsened during summers in the coastal city of Mumbai, costing him the time needed for his studies. “I had to move to Hyderabad due to extreme humidity surges, now I risk losing an academic year,” Reddy said.

Image credits: Skymet, Pratyush Nalam, Aunia Kahn, Roxy Koll, Gulf News.

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