Thursday, 13 September 2012

Post-2015 Blog Week: 'Water and sanitation for all - including people with disabilities!' by Marion Steff and Helen Hamilton, Sightsavers

Marion Steff
Marion Steff, PhD is Policy Advisor for Social Inclusion and Helen Hamilton is Policy Advisor for Neglected Tropical Diseases at Sightsavers, an international charity which works with partners to eliminate avoidable blindness and promote equality of opportunity for disabled people in the developing world. This blog highlights the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities are not forgotten in the new development framework.
Helen Hamilton

We are thrilled to be able to add our five cents to the End Water Poverty “Post-2015 Blog Week”! In fact, Sightsavers, along with other partners, have been actively involved in the post 2015 advocacy initiatives to ensure that this time round, people with disabilities will be included in the next UN framework to succeed the MDGs. Having the opportunity to share our perspective on disability and water is another step forward in our efforts to include the perspective of disability and marginalised groups in the big post 2015 debate.  

What is social inclusion?
People with disabilities are often isolated and excluded from participation in society, and are thus likely to have poorer health, lower levels of education, and higher rates of poverty. Sightsavers works toward the social inclusion of people with disabilities, meaning that we want to ensure that everyone in society is included and treated equally while enjoying the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Advocacy for social inclusion is done at various levels from Disabled People’s Organisations engaging their communities to effect change in their day to day lives to lobbying at international level to ensure people with disabilities are included in the post 2015 development framework including on issues of water access.

Disability, water, and NTDs
Globally, over a billion people live with a disability and 80% of them are in developing countries. People with disabilities living in poorer settings face significant barriers to accessing water and sanitation, services essential for healthy and productive lives. Limited access to water and sanitation facilities can have devastating health impacts and lead to the spread of potentially disabling diseases such as blinding trachoma. Improved environmental hygiene and face and hand washing (two key elements of the SAFE strategy for control and elimination of trachoma) can help prevent the spread of this disease. However, this strategy is only effective if all members of the community including people with disabilities can access clean water and sanitation facilities.

An accessible well in Tienfala, Mali. The well has a higher than normal wall so that blind members of the community can locate it easily using a white cane. The path has stones laid out on either side that crunch underfoot as you approach - signalling that you are nearing the well. The path is also flat so it is accessible to wheelchair users.
(photo: Helen Hamilton/Sightsavers)
The adaptations needed to make water and sanitation accessible to people with disabilities can include wider entrances to accommodate wheelchair users or gravel paths that crunch underfoot as you walk to a well so that a  person with a visual impairment can use that noise and sensation to locate the well.  Water and sanitation providers can make vital contributions to reducing access barriers by including people with disabilities in the planning and implementation of WASH services; they are the experts on what they need and what works for them. Sanitation that is accessible to people with disabilities will bring added benefits to the rest of the community; higher walls on wells protect children from falling in and, raised latrines will be useful to non-disabled users with mobility difficulties such as older people or heavily pregnant women who may find squatting difficult. These simple adaptions are much more cost effective to make early on, during the construction stage of a project, rather than during a later potentially costly update or alteration.  

The post 2015
The needs of people with disabilities were not reflected directly in the MDGs goals. The usual happened again: people with disabilities were left behind, simply unheard or forgotten.. However, if people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to poverty but there are no clear objectives or mechanisms to integrate their needs  into  poverty reduction efforts,  this important population group has little chance to benefit from economic and social development and from the achievements of MDGs. Now, if people with disabilities are again excluded from the new post 2015 framework, we will have to call it discrimination (some people already use this term to describe  the non-inclusion of people with disabilities in the MDG agenda). Ensuring people with disabilities are mainstreamed in the global efforts to provide  water and sanitation to everyone, is not only an issue, of survival, it is an issue of breaking the cycle of exclusion and poverty.  Inequalities must be addressed in the next post 2015 framework and clean water and sanitation must be made accessible for all.

A great thanks to End Water Poverty for its invitation to participate at the “Post 2015 Blog Week” and providing us a platform for advocacy efforts. Collaborative work and alliance with organisations having other interest than disability is essential to strengthen influences’ actions. It is especially true in our field where the ultimate goal of CSOs and DPOs (Disabled People Organisations) is to support social inclusion for all, in all sectors. Let’s keep up the good work and, more especially, let’s work together!

For more information about Sightsavers, don’t hesitate to contact Marion Steff or Helen Hamilton You can also follow them on twitter: @mllemarionamtl  and @HelenCHamilton

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