With some Pacific nations among the most disaster-prone in the world, children with disabilities face greater risks to their safety during a climate disaster and experience more difficulties accessing humanitarian aid and emergency shelters due to physical barriers and community acceptance.
Multiple studies, including by the University of Melbourne on the impacts of Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, have found that people with disabilities are up to 2-4 times more likely to be killed or injured during a disaster.
In the aftermath of the devastating twin cyclones in Vanuatu in March 2023, families of children with disabilities often stayed in unsafe housing due to community rejection, according to a Save the Children report.
Paulos,* 14, from the Solomon Islands, said he fears his disability could prevent him from being able to escape a disaster when it occurs.
“For any natural disaster, like cyclone and tsunami, if they come, I am not prepared at all. I feel like am not prepared to run and evacuate,” he said.
In addition to the impact of disasters, the climate crisis is a threat multiplier and amplifies existing discrimination, prejudice and barriers that impinge on children’s rights to healthcare, protection, and education, especially for children with disabilities in rural or remote areas of the Pacific Islands.
“I attended school until 4th grade. The reason I stopped attending school was because I was getting heavier for my mother to carry me to school every day. I was also ashamed to attend school because children from my school will laugh at me,” said Paulos.*
“As a person with disability, my hope and dream is to have access to education and other services and opportunities like my other friends who are able.”
Paulos* has helped Save the Children understand the additional barriers people with disabilities face during disasters. With this information, we are working with communities, including Paulos, to help them plan for crisis and make sure no one is left behind.
The Pacific region is home to some of the countries with the highest rates of children with disabilities in the world, with a 2022 UNICEF statistical analysis ranking Kiribati and Samoa as third and sixth respectively.
Kim Koch, Save the Children’s Pacific Regional Director, said while all children are at risk to the impacts of the climate crisis, children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable and require tailored care to ensure their lives and rights are protected.
“The impacts of the climate crisis are already being felt in the Pacific Islands, but as the climate crisis worsens, so too will the disasters. This cyclone season, for instance, is expected to be one of the worst in decades, with a Category Five cyclone hitting Vanuatu before the season even officially began and up to 14 more cyclones expected hit over the coming months.
“For all children, but especially children with disabilities, every single one of these cyclones could be life threatening, could leave them homeless or unable to access food, water or medicine. These children are facing unacceptable risks.
“With COP28 wrapping up in Dubai, we need to see serious commitments from the international community to tackle the climate crisis by strengthening investment in vulnerable communities to build climate resilience, including disaster preparedness and response.”
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
 - CBM-Nossall Institute Disability Inclusion in Disaster Risk Reduction: Experiences of people with disabilities in Vanuatu during and after TC Pam 2017