More than five months after Cyclone Nargis struck southern Myanmar, people with physical disabilities (PwDs) continue to await assistance. Little of the international relief targeting the 2.4 million people affected has filtered down to them.
Scores lost their homes, property and livelihoods to the storm, which left nearly 140,000 dead or missing.
Others lost their mobility devices - including, crutches, wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs - to flood waters. Many were also badly traumatised and have yet to receive the psycho-social support they need.
“Many people were affected by the cyclone and are now receiving assistance. Unfortunately very little has come to us,” said Nay Lin Soe, who was stricken with polio as a youngster and can only walk with the aid of crutches.
Today he is one of 125 disabled people working together to help other PwDs in his community rebuild their lives and homes. They have a simple office within the Eden Centre for Disabled Children in Yangon, the former Burmese capital.
30,000 PwDs in Ayeyarwady Delta
Prior to Nargis, there were an estimated 30,000 PwDs living in Myanmar’s badly affected Ayeyarwady Delta, including 5,000 children. In the wake of the disaster, health experts speculate that another 3,000-5,000 PwDs may have been added to their ranks.
|In Myanmar, many people have little awareness of the needs of the disabled|
“It is obvious that people with disabilities have been completely overlooked so far in all general and sectoral assessments,” Thomas Calvot, disability and emergency adviser for Handicap International France, who spent three weeks in Myanmar, told IRIN.
The Post Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA), considered by many as the blueprint for the humanitarian response to the area, makes only brief mention of PwDs, saying they should be included.
An assessment of the number of PwDs and the challenges ahead in terms of helping them has yet to be carried out.
The cyclone-affected area was inaccessible at the best of times, with no concrete paths, houses built on stilts and areas largely surrounded by water. For PwDs things are obviously more difficult.
The psychosocial impact of the cyclone on PwDs, documented in the PONJA, is also significant, with some left apart or behind when their families or caretakers fled the storm. Some are experiencing difficulties recovering a sense of inclusion in their communities.
Others suffer from sensorial or mental impairments and are often not properly informed about what is happening around them.
Calvot would like to see more attention given to such groups: Their participation in interagency coordination mechanisms is nearly nonexistent.