Disability in Conflict and Emergency Situations: Focus on Tsunami-affected Areas, IDCC Research Report


The research was to promote the inclusion of disability in emergency, conflict and refugee programmes. The particular objectives were to assess:
a) the extent of inclusion
b) the impact of networking
c) the role of resources in post-tsunami contexts.

The geographical focus was mainly Sri Lanka, with contributions from India and Indonesia.

The researchers found that despite extensive literature on the different topics of disasters, disability, development, there has been very little previous research combining these issues, particularly from a social model analysis. From existing literature however, it is evident that disabled persons, particularly in the South, are not fully included, and are amongst the most negatively affected in all aspects of their lives.

The research focused on the post-emergency stage, and a distinction needs to be made between the acute emergency phase that last a few weeks which involves different strategies and resources from the post-emergency phase. Another distinction that needs to be kept in mind is there are those disabled persons and their families who were directly affected by the tsunami, but also those who were affected indirectly, but just as severely.

The researchers found that inclusion happened to some extent, but not usually at the upper levels of decision-making and planning. There were a range of inclusive resources, but little evidence of them being known or used. Although the language of inclusion and the social model of disability were quite widespread, misunderstanding or ignorance of what this meant in practice was the norm. Representation was a problematical issue, both in terms of European aid workers ending up speaking 'on behalf' of disabled persons in lobbying work, and also in relation DPOs, who often had little direct contact with the majority of poor disabled persons.

One of the key findings was that huge levels of funding available created many problems as well as offered huge potential. \"There was little evidence that the money reached poor DPOs or the grass roots, and the pressure to spend quickly didn't support consultation.\"

Another key finding was that the disability sector operated within a 'cocoon' and didn't really engage with important mainstream development issues. Networking and collaboration tended to suffer from 'vertical dominance' with poor communities remaining largely 'out of the loop'.

In both Sri Lanka and Indonesia, the pre-existing conflict situations were exacerbated by the post-tsunami relief efforts. Statistics on disability were as usual problematic, caught in the 'no inclusion therefore no reason to self-identify' loop, and based on an impairment rather than social model. It was difficult to get disaggregated information - there was a tendency to refer to the disabled community as a homogenous group.

The researchers made a number of recommendations for future options. They suggested research, guidelines and training are needed for field staff from a range of agencies on the social model of disability and inclusion and what they mean in practice. There needs to be more linkages between the disability and the development communities - the disability sector would benefit greatly from engaging more directly with development issues, and of course vice versa.

To the disability sector they recommended that they should consider forming alliances with other marginalised groups and be more aware of the wider political issues.

More research is needed on how local DPOs and other organisations can be strengthened quickly to respond in emergency situations, rather than assuming that international agencies have to take the lead in lobbying.

For donors more research into the percentage of tsunami funding that DPOs and local organisations have actually received and efforts need to be made to promote horizontal and grass-roots networking and alliances.

A 6-page executive summary is available as well as the full report.


Disability in Conflict and Emergency Situations: Focus on Tsunami-affected Areas, IDCC Research Report, Disability Knowledge and Research Programme, 66 pp.

Published 1 January 2005