21 Oct Where is Sustainable Development Goal 18?
Not far from my office in Hanoi, Vietnam is the UN Headquarters. On a daily basis I’m reminded of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which were decided at the 2015 summit in Dar es Salam. Hanging proudly from the grey and heavily secured building hangs the colourful banner of the SDG. The seventeen friendly infographics remind the hundreds of workers whizzing by that the staff are busy typing on their computers writing inspiring development policies to end world poverty by 2030.
However when you take a close glance at the SDG’s the UN seem to have made yet another monumental blunder. They failed to include any specific goal which directly addresses the needs of disabled people. Unfortunately, this is not the first time disabled people have been left out of the development agenda, disability was not mentioned in any of the Millennium Development Goals, nor their targets or indicators.
During this round of talks the United Nations had a second try. Delegates had the chance to include disabled people in the development agenda for the next 15 years and make history. Unfortunately the UN failed to really include disabled people and their inclusion in the SDG’s felt like more of a ‘tick box’ exercise.
After reading through the SDG’s the lack of inclusion of how disability will be addressed in development was frightening. To be precise only Goal 4 (Education), 8 ( Economic Empowerment) , 10 (Reduce inequality) and 11 (Sustainable cities and communities) mentioned disabled people in the section headed ‘targets’. Empower, promote, build, upgrade and enforce are all powerful adjectives which feels uplifting and inspiring but in reality will these action words really make an impact on the ground?
It is undeniable fact that people with disabilities are consistently among the poorest in many communities.
The World Health Organisation in collaboration with the World Bank recently estimated that 15% of the world’s population – some 1 billion people – live with disabilities that have a direct impact on their daily lives. That translates to one household in every four has a disabled member.
They are not only poorer in economic terms but are also comparatively poorer in many areas- access to health care, education, employment and social inclusion. On top of this, people with disabilities often face stigma and prejudice that severely limits their ability to have a voice in their households and communities.
If international institutions are able to collect and analyse data why are the needs of disabled people not being addressed? Nora Ellen Groce, Director of the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre at University College London, addressed this issue in a talk to Oxfam in 2015. During this talk it was highlighted that one of the key reasons is “that many development practitioners still consider disabled people – if they consider them at all – as objects of charity or as recipients of medical care rather than an impoverished population that is an international development concern”.
Yet the single greatest problem facing people with disabilities worldwide is poverty. Like all impoverished people across the world disabled people need viable and sustainable solutions to employment. The International Labour Organization estimates one of every 10 people in the world has a disability — some 650 million worldwide. Approximately 470 million are of working age. Their social exclusion from the workplace deprives societies of an estimated US$ 1.37 to 1.94 trillion in annual loss in GDP. An estimated 80 per cent of all people with disabilities in the world live in rural areas of developing countries and have limited or no access to services they need. Providing decent work for people with disabilities makes social as well as economic sense.
‘Leave no one behind’ which has been a key feature of all discussions focused around the post-2015 agenda and SDG goals. Although this is a catchy slogan, the development sector and leading international institutions need to work alongside governments and local communities to include disabled people in the fight against poverty.
Rather than flirting with words such as inclusion, integrity and equality the UN needs to adopt a policy which takes decisive action and offers real practical solutions for people with disabilities. Disabled people need to be more than afterthought or tickbox exercise.
Fortunately Leonard Cheshire Disability are leading the way in addressing the development gap between development and disability. In alliance with 54 countries, DPOs (Disabled people’s organisations), disability-focused NGOs and organisations throughout the development community, Leonard Cheshire Disability are trying to increase awareness and include people with disability in global development areas.
It is charities such as these which give hope that disability will become an issue which will be included in all development efforts. Twenty years ago women were routinely overlooked in international development efforts. Now few would think of designing a policy without considering gender issues, we now need a development effort which always includes disabled people. Until that time, people with disabilities will continue to be at risk of continuing to live in isolation and extreme poverty. In the meantime we all need to make a concerted effort to keep campaigning to raise awareness.
If ignored the UN run a real risk of not meeting their SDG’s by 2030. It is suggested that because of the size and depth of poverty associated with disability, many of the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals will not be met unless the needs of disabled people are included and met. At the very least the UN and the development sector need to push forward for an inclusive agenda. Otherwise we are at real risk of locking disabled people into a cycle of poverty whilst their non-disabled peers break free.
By Jodie Le Marrec