NEW YORK, Feb 28 (IPS) – Emina Cerimovic is senior disability rights researcher at Human Rights Swatch. A few days ago I saw one Photo shared on Twitter by Sham, a young Syrian girl rescued from the rubble in northwestern Syria, sitting upright in her hospital bed. According to the Syrian Civil Defense, a voluntary humanitarian group also known as the White Helmets, Sham will lose both of his legs due to the damage from the quake.
Looking at her photo, I couldn’t help but think about the additional human rights violations that Sham will experience because of her disability. She will join all children with disabilities who are surviving the 12-year conflict in Syria without equal access to humanitarian aid.
And there are others who experienced traumatic physical and psychological damage in the wake of the earthquakes: a girl who had spent 30 hours under the rubble in the hard-hit town of Jindires in northwestern Syria and had lost both legs; a 3-year-old boy in Jinderis who was trapped for 42 hours and had his left leg amputated; a young Syrian man lives in Gaziantep, Turkey, whose right hand was amputated.
As questions about access to humanitarian aid to various affected parts of Syria dominatethe newsrelief efforts should not overlook the short- and long-term needs of people with disabilities and the thousands of earthquake survivors who have sustained physical and psychological injuries that may lead to permanent disabilities.
When two more strong earthquakes hit the region on February 20, panic and fear spread among earthquake survivors in both Syria and Turkeywith a sharp focus on the psychological trauma caused by the natural hazard and, for Syrians, by over 12 years of war.
In Syria, roughly 28 percent of the current population – almost double the global average – are estimated to have a disability, and their rights and needs are largely unmet. As I found in my September report on the greater risk of harm and lack of access to basic rights for children with disabilities caught up in the Syrian war, the design and delivery of humanitarian programs in Syria do not take into account the special needs of children with disabilities. In some cases, such programs explicitly exclude them.
As an example, some educational activities and child-friendly spaces excluded children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Children with disabilities grow up without security, basic necessities, education, aids or psychosocial support, in a way that puts their lives and rights at risk.
They experience stigma, psychological harm and higher levels of poverty. The situation is no better for adults with disabilities as well face systematic challenges to have access to humanitarian services on equal terms with others.
This crisis should serve as a wake-up call for UN agencies, donor states, humanitarian organizations and charities to respond appropriately to the rights of all children by ensuring that the rights and needs of children with disabilities are also met.
They should develop and implement their response and recovery action plans with people with disabilities at the center. The attention and investment in children – like Sham – and adults with disabilities will strengthen human rights for all.
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