Lagos has been identified as one of the places in the world vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The Maplecroft’s Climate Change Vulnerability Index places the bustling Nigerian city (along with locations in Yemen, Haiti, United Arab Emirates, Kiribati and Philippines) at “extreme” risk.
This is especially because its (Lagos) population is expanding rapidly, and it is considered to be a major economic engine for the West African region.
This is evident through the impacts of climate change which include rising temperature, more intense and frequent weather events and sea level rise. Due to Nigeria’s population, the consequences are increased water and food shortages, higher exposure to heat stress and ultraviolet radiation. Researchers have provided evidence that climate change events affect all aspects of human life, especially the social and environmental determinants of health, clean air, safe drinking water and food security.
The consequences of climate change on human health could be direct and indirect and could also be increasing the population of persons with disabilities in the state. Usually, it is perceived that accidents, birth deformity or hereditary are the major channels of acquiring partial or permanent impairments, but climate change is also in its way worsening the situation and adding to the population of persons with disabilities.
PWDS and Climate Change
Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) have various clusters as identified by its national body, the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD). These clusters include – Blind, Deaf, Physically Challenged, Intellectual (Down Syndrome, Autism, etc.), Spinal Cord Injury, People with Albinism, Dwarf and Leprosy.
Speaking on the impact of climate change on disabled persons, Daniel Otti, Person with Albinism, explained: “Climate change causes extreme heat and the higher temperature means higher emission of UV Radiation which attacks the skin cells without enough melanin for protection causing cancer. Therefore, climate change increases the incidence of cancer for persons with albinism.”
For her part, Folakemi Aje, a physically challenged that moves around with the aid of a walking cane, said climate change is impacting negatively on PWDs most especially because they cannot access immediate help or interventions in cases of emergencies because of their disability. She explained that, “during heavy rains and floods where the road is muddy, someone using crutches or walking cane would find it difficult to access major locations and would definitely be secluded from any intervention programmes.”
To ensure that the Lagos State Climate Policy caters for the various disabled persons in the state, Aje said there is need to involve all the disability clusters because they know what intervention is most appropriate to the various disability needs.
Opeyemi Adewale, a blind lady, narrates her ordeal during environmental disasters, saying: “As a visually impaired person, accessing road networks during heavy rains and floods in Lagos is usually a tug of war. Most times, you step into flood water or muddy area and even fall into open drainages because you cannot navigate very well within the area.
“It is worse because sometimes it affects our productivity at work. We are still advocating for formal employment for PWDs and climate change is making it difficult for the few employed ones to access the work environment, this is further reinforcing one of the major barriers confronting PWDs.”
Climate Change Policy in Lagos
In an interview with Mr. Bankole Michael, Head of Department, Climate Change and Environmental Planning, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, he confirmed that various stakeholders were engaged during the development of the Climate Change Policy of Lagos State in 2015 during the Babatunde Raji Fashola’s administration.
Mr. Bankole, who said the department had a liaison officer for the Lagos State Office of Disability Affairs (LASODA), could not confirm categorically if the disability community was among the stakeholders engaged during the policy formation.
He said: “Our policy is encompassing, it might not mention PWDs verbatim but what we have is implied because we are looking at climate change adaptation, climate change mitigation and the cross cutting issues where we have the education, training and public awareness. Everybody within the state and those planning to come into the state has been taken into consideration.”
Checking for the disability component in the policy, it was confirmed that Chapter 4 of the drafted policy subtitled: “Gender and Other Social Considerations” captured the physically challenged which however does not suffice for all disability groups.
Mr. Bankole confirmed that, before the Policy would be made public, there would be adequate review to meet up with the current realities as regards climate change, adding that persons with disabilities will be included.
“Before making it public, the Climate Change Policy needs to be reviewed to suit current realities, for instance the Paris Agreement which has given some mandates to nations and we need to be mindful of that. In doing this, we will carefully consider the engagement of Persons with Disabilities”, he added.
He also noted that the annual international summit on climate change, which is expected to be resuscitated soon, would ensure that PWDs are brought to the fore of the conversation as it affects them.
Neglecting PWDs in Climate Change Discourse
Dr. Adebukola Adebayo, Chairman, Lagos State Chapter of the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD), explained that members of the disability community are usually being excluded in the formation of policies that affect them.
He said: “There is no awareness on the part of these stakeholders to engage PWDs because they are being affected by climate change.” He also noted that PWDs do not have the adequate capacity to advocate for inclusive climate change policy.
Mr Matepo Wahab, Head, Spinal Cord Injury Association of Nigeria (SCIAN), Lagos State Chapter, said persons with spinal cord Injury are usually affected by harsh temperature which is one of the effects of climate change.
He explained: “Our temperature as persons with spinal cord injury does not align with that of other people because our spinal cord has been affected and there is no communication with the brain to adapt to the current temperature such as extreme cold and when it hits, we feel extremely hot. Oftentimes, we sweat when others are not sweating, this means we feel the impact of climate change much more than the able bodied.”
Wahab reiterated that it is of essence that the disabled group are adequately engaged in the development of the Climate Change Policy in the state so it can cater for all. He also spoke on the need to have accurate data of persons with disabilities in the state for the purpose of emergencies, to ensure there’s adequate provision to evacuate PWDs.
Way Forward – Achieving SDG 13
The Sustainable Development Goal 13 which seeks to take urgent action to combat climate change cannot be achieved if one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population (according to the World Bank Group, have experienced some form of disability) are secluded from the climate change discourse which affects them to a very large extent.
To ensure no-one is left behind in addressing climate change issues in Lagos, Dr. Adebayo said: “Only a policy-driven multi-stakeholder approach can effectively open doors and break down most of the barriers which exclude PWDs from participating in, and benefiting from climate change and emergency management programmes and policies of government.
“All relevant MDAs of the Lagos State Government need to come together under a technical working group to ensure that PWDs are effectively mainstreamed in these very critical policy areas.”
Dr. Adebayo also spoke on key areas of relevance on climate change to PWDs as he urged the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) to engage with communities of PWDs for the purpose of awareness creation, enlightenment and capacity-building, as well as preparedness for unexpected situations.
Speaking on Children and Women with Disabilities, he said: “There is no evidence to show that our children with disabilities in Lagos State Inclusive and Special Schools are engaged in extracurricular activities on climate change and emergency management, these children need such education because oftentimes, this is where exclusion begins.
“Also, women with disabilities are often worse affected when climate change or natural disasters destroy means of livelihood. While it is sometimes easier for non-disabled women to get back into life after disasters, women with disabilities often never survive because they are neither included in most post-disaster relief programmes nor in the regular women empowerment programmes. Therefore, there’s a need for inclusion at all levels of intervention programmes.”
He also urged the media, policymakers and other experts on climate change, emergency management and other related issues to be consciously aware of the fact that PWDs also need to be informed about these issues.
“As such when designing advocacy, public enlightenment and other communication materials, specific needs of PWDs should be considered. It is important that designers of these materials should understand the various disability-based information accessibility needs.
“We should know that billboards will not serve the blind; radio will not serve the deaf; information written or spoken in very complex English will not serve those with intellectual disabilities; PWDs with lower literacy levels will require interpretations in local languages; etc,” he said.
Another factor to look at in bridging the disability inclusion gap is by resuscitating the Annual Summit on Climate Change in the state with adequate representation from the disability community to give reasonable inputs as it may affect them.
By Blessing Oladunjoye