Climate change is affecting every region on Earth and already causing irreversible impacts. While it is a global phenomenon, its negative impacts are felt more intensely by poorer countries and poor communities heavily reliant on natural resources and lacking coping and adaptive capacities to deal with a changing climate. Within those poor communities and countries, persons with disabilities are often amongst the most marginalized people. They experience attitudinal, physical and communication barriers that undermine their access to services and opportunities supporting their well-being and resilience. For this reason, they tend to be disproportionately vulnerable to climate impacts, including more frequent and intense disasters, as those exacerbate pre-existing vulnerabilities. Yet, while it is acknowledged that climate change will exacerbate inequity should we fail to ensure inclusive and participatory decision-making processes in climate governance, disability inclusion in climate action largely remains marginally addressed. Persons with disabilities have been historically left out of climate responses at various levels, from local and national country plans to global negotiations occurring at the UN Conferences of the Parties1 (COP).
Nepal is experiencing an increasing number of climate-related disasters, with a global study ranking it as the fourth worst hit country in the world by weather-related loss events in 20172. Urban floods, landslides, extreme heat, storms, drought, and wildfires are very common climate disasters affecting communities across the country, especially rural populations and their natural resource-dependent livelihoods. Nepal’s vulnerability to climate change lies in its varied topography marked by steep terrain and remoteness, its diverse geo-climatic system and social vulnerability, exacerbated by challenges to deliver effective and comprehensive disaster risk reduction and management strategies. To address this serious threat to economic development and prosperity, Nepal has put in place a rich overarching climate change policy framework early on, encompassing dedicated policies and plans, as well as sectoral planning processes integrating climate resilience. Nepal has also established various leadership, coordination, and stakeholder engagement mechanisms to guide climate change policymaking, articulate implementation across the government’s three-tier federal structure, and ensure dialogue with key stakeholders including civil society actors.
Endorsed in 2011, Nepal’s Framework on Local Adaptation Plans for Action (LAPA) is a particularly praised initiative, promoting a bottom-up, inclusive, and flexible approach for integrating climate adaptation and resilience aspects into local planning. This pioneering, community driven process, places the adaptation needs and opportunities of most vulnerable and highly vulnerable groups at the heart of the approach. Gender considerations factoring intersecting factors of marginalization such as age and ethnicity have been given priority in these processes, to address women’s increasing economic insecurity and workload due to climate change. But inclusion of women with disabilities, or persons with disabilities in general in local adaptation planning has not been strongly evidenced to date.
According to Nepal Census 2022, 2.2% of the Nepali Population have some form of disability, mainly a physical disability. However, other sources estimate this figure to be much higher. Nepal ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2008 and passed the Disability Rights Act in 2017, establishing constitutional directives to support persons with disabilities and making it illegal to discriminate based on disability. Yet, perception of persons with disability in Nepal remains generally negative, due to persistent and deep-rooted Hindu religious beliefs associating disability with sinning in a previous life. Women and girls with disability face greater marginalization and discrimination and tend to be hidden away by families. Nepal’s caste system also plays a role in shaping the vulnerability of persons with disabilities. Thus, widespread stigma compounded by the intersectionality of certain factors, combined with structural inaccessibility, create significant barriers to have equal access to resources and participate in decision-making. This tends to translate into poor socio-economic status, poor health outcomes, and no or low education levels, especially among women and girls. Persons with disabilities in Nepal can register under social welfare to access several disability-targeted benefit packages, including a Disability Grant. However, the process tends to be paved with barriers, leading to high exclusion rates.
It is in this context that HI sought to better understand the unique challenges and opportunities for persons with disabilities in the face of climate change in Nepal. This report is intended to inform how persons with disabilities understand and perceive climate change, what is their experience of dealing with climate extremes, what is the impact on their health, livelihoods and support system, and their actual level of inclusion in climate adaptation planning. To capture those perspectives, HI surveyed 388 persons with disabilities across Nepal’s 7 provinces, consulted 20 key informants from the disability movement, government institutions, and the aid sector, and conducted 8 targeted focus group discussions to hear from women, youth, and persons representing diverse disability types. This report is a contribution to the growing evidence base documenting the disproportionate impacts of climate change on persons with disabilities and calling for disability-inclusive climate action at all levels of governance.