Responding to the needs of Persons with Disabilities

Abu Mohammad and his family next to their current residence in Beit Hanoun. Photo by OCHA
Abu Mohammad and his family next to their current residence in Beit Hanoun. Photo by OCHA

Persons with disabilities (PwDs) – estimated to represent 2.4 per cent of the population – are one of the most vulnerable groups in times of crisis in terms of accessing emergency services. Following the 2014 summer hostilities, Handicap International (HI), in partnership with four disability service providers,8 launched an emergency response project to meet the urgent needs of PwDs. This project was implemented from August 2014 until the end of February 2015.

Persons with disabilities (PwDs) – estimated to represent 2.4 per cent of the population – are one of the most vulnerable groups in times of crisis in terms of accessing emergency services. Following the 2014 summer hostilities, Handicap International (HI), in partnership with four disability service providers,8 launched an emergency response project to meet the urgent needs of PwDs. This project was implemented from August 2014 until the end of February 2015.

As part of this project, HI donated 648 mobility assistive devices, NFI and therapeutic materials to hospitals during the hostilities for distribution to PwIs. Immediately after the ceasefire, HI supported its partners in the five governorates to provide multidisciplinary rehabilitation services, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, psychosocial support, nursing and dressing, referrals to other services, plus assistive devices and NFI distribution. A total of 27,696 multidisciplinary rehabilitation sessions, 2,578 mobility assistive devices and 3,975 NFI were distributed to the most vulnerable persons affected by the crisis. Technical support and training were delivered to partner outreach teams to ensure quality rehabilitation services to support PwDs and PwIs. It is anticipated that 148 of the 2,090 PwIs (seven per cent) will suffer from permanent disability due to physical impairment and another 137 (6.5 per cent) will have a permanent disability due to sensorial impairment.

“All I need is my electric wheelchair so I can move around again as I used to before the war”

Abu Mohammad, a 53-year old registered refugee and father of nine, became an IDP when his family home in Beit Hanoun was destroyed during the July-August hostilities. His difficulties as a refugee are compounded by being disabled: he has been paralyzed from the hips down since he was eight years old and cannot walk. His electric wheelchair was destroyed during the hostilities and his children now have to carry him everywhere. As head of the household, it is very challenging to rebuild or improve his family’s shelter conditions when he cannot move.

“All I need is my electric wheelchair so I can move around again as I used to before the war,” Abu Mohammad said when asked about the biggest challenge he faced.

During the summer hostilities, the family stayed in an UNRWA shelter in Beit Hanoun and then relocated to another shelter in Jabalia. It was very difficult for Abu Mohammad to stay in the shelter because of his disability. His wife also suffers from paralysis in her left arm and part of her leg. One of their sons was injured in the head when the shelter in Beit Hanoun was struck by Israeli fire during the hostilities, killing multiple members of the extended family. The injured son regularly attends an UNRWA clinic to check his blood pressure and he experiences constant headaches and frequent nose bleeds.

The extended family includes 38 members, all of whom used to live in the multi-storey building that was destroyed during the hostilities. They have now returned and erected a few makeshift shelters on the site of their former home. The sounds of shooting from an Israeli military training facility very close by is frightening for the children. The family’s living conditions are dire and several of Abu Mohammad’s children and grandchildren have rashes all over their bodies, while the younger children cry a lot. One son, 16, searches through the rubble to sell bricks and cement for recycling. This is very dangerous due to the presence of explosive remnants of war (ERW), but the family’s resources are so scarce that they feel there is no alternative.

Water is very scarce, largely eliminating the family’s ability to bathe regularly. They have received some food assistance and Abu Mohammad receives a modest subsidy from the Ministry of Social Affairs every three months due to his disability. They also received a one-time rental allotment and a furniture subsidy from UNRWA. In May, Abu Mohammed’s family managed to move to a caravan in a TDS (Temporary Displacement Site) in Beit Hanoun. The family’s case has been referred back to UNRWA, the Health Cluster and Handicap International for follow up.

* This piece originally appeared in OCHA’s May 2015 Humanitarian Bulletin.