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Poverty, food insecurity and disability

Disability is increasingly becoming part of international cooperation and development aid (© Sightsavers)
Disability is increasingly becoming part of international cooperation and development aid
© Sightsavers

Poverty and disability are intrinsically linked, Inclusion International estimating that some 43 per cent of people with a disability live in poverty. Add to this the number of people who are affected by disabled relatives and the number affected is even greater. Poverty may lead to disability through poor living conditions, malnutrition and lack of access to health services. Conversely, disability leads to poverty though lack of employment and education opportunities, and limited access to health and social services.

The causes of disability are often directly related to food insecurity and poverty. According to the UN, malnutrition causes 20 per cent of disabilities, including stunting and learning disabilities. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the number of people affected by disability is significant, making up 15 per cent of the global population, a number that rises dramatically for the poorest people and people in post-conflict countries.

Despite agriculture being the second biggest employment sector worldwide - almost 60 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and 35 per cent globally - people with disabilities are frequently excluded from agricultural employment opportunities. In developing countries, 80-90 per cent of people of working age with disabilities are unemployed, whereas in industrialised countries the figure is between 50-70 per cent. While accessibility is a significant factor, the underlying reasons may not be so obvious: for many, the major barriers are not physical, but related to attitudes, stigma, and lack of awareness. As the Focus on agriculture and disability articles show, it is not always a question of whether people with disabilities can work (they clearly can) but whether they have access to training, credit, and the same opportunities as non-disabled agricultural workers.

What are the next steps?

The International Labour Office estimates economic losses related to the exclusion of people with disabilities from the labour force to be between 3-7 per cent of the GDP of African countries. Clearly there needs to be greater inclusion of people with disabilities in the development agenda.

The post-2015 agenda provides potential for disability issues to be brought into the mainstream of development (© Anja Ligtenberg)
The post-2015 agenda provides potential for disability issues to be brought into the mainstream of development
© Anja Ligtenberg

Change, however, is beginning to happen. Disability is increasingly becoming part of international cooperation and development aid and international cooperation policies are linking disability to development targets. The main drivers of these developments are relatively recent, such as the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first human rights convention specifically targeting disability, and the 2011 WHO/World Bank World Report on Disability.

The post-2015 agenda provides further potential for disability issues to be brought into the mainstream of development. Disability NGOs and civil society have already been involved in shaping new development targets to be disability inclusive. Discussions, such as the upcoming UN High-level Meeting on Disability and Development, will focus on a disability-inclusive development agenda towards 2015 and beyond. There are now possibilities to influence these discussions through disability organisations, NGOs and social media.

Mainstreaming disability

Despite progress, much more needs to be done: international agencies should combine a number of approaches to include disability in development, through targeted and mainstreamed programmes. Mainstreaming disability faces similar challenges to gender mainstreaming, including lack of reliable data, awareness of disability issues, and measuring policy outcome effectiveness. However there are now online a number of shared experiences by development agencies and international NGOs on how to mainstream disability through different phases of development programmes and project planning cycles.

Income-generating and employment opportunities for disabled people in agriculture need to be more inclusive (© Helen Hamilton/Sightsavers)
Income-generating and employment opportunities for disabled people in agriculture need to be more inclusive
© Helen Hamilton/Sightsavers

Income-generating and employment opportunities for disabled people in agriculture and related rural sectors also need to be more inclusive. International development agencies and NGOs have a role in pushing for agricultural production technologies to be updated to meet the requirements of rural workers with disabilities. Occupational health and safety in agriculture, including accident prevention in agricultural and agro-forestry industries, should be promoted. In particular, disability issues need to be integrated into national rural development policies and programmes. Practitioners, service providers and people who use services are often the most informed as to what does and doesn't work, yet often they are not engaged in influencing policy. Clearly, one way to bring about positive change is to develop the capacity of civil society organisations and people with disabilities to engage in policy development.

Written by: James Edge, communications specialist in the area of disability and accessibility at FAO

Date published: September 2013

 

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