At the centre for blind and partially sighted people operated by the Marisela Toledo association in Managua, Nicaragua, two people lean over a three-dimensional map of the city, running their hands and fingers over carved lines, ridges and bumps that represent the rivers, streets and major highways that make up the greater Managua metropolitan area.
The colourful map, which includes the peaks of volcanic mountains that define the city’s outskirts, is helping these two people better understand how to avoid key risks, particularly during natural disasters such as earthquakes or floods. Both are participants in a unique programme run by the Nicaraguan Red Cross that helps people who are visually impaired find their way to safety when natural disaster strikes. “This mock-up is a very helpful tool; it could help save our lives if disaster strikes,” says María Cristina Aguilar, a blind woman participating in the programme.
Living through a flood, storm or earthquake can be a terrifying and dangerous ordeal for anyone. For those who cannot see, yet live in a crowded, urban environment, the prospect is even scarier. The visual cues that many people take for granted are absent and, if the urban landscape is damaged or changed, there are likely to be unexpected obstacles and chaos all around.
Part of a larger programme that aims to strengthen capacities for preparedness and response to earthquakes in urban areas of Managua’s district II, this kind of preparation helps people avoid potential obstacles and risky areas and reach safer grounds.
Reducing urban risk
Funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO) and a consortium of the Italian, Netherlands and Spanish Red Cross societies, the project is just one of many activities offered by the Nicaraguan Red Cross and other partners in Managua specifically for those with disabilities.
In Latin America, reducing urban risk is critical as countries in the region have some of the highest rates of urban growth among low- and middle-income countries. From a predominantly rural landscape with economies focused on agricultural and agro-industrial production, the region is now undergoing a fundamental shift in economic and social activities defined by irregular settlement patterns, limited access to land ownership, poverty and a range of other social and economic issues.
To prepare vulnerable communities effectively in these difficult and complex environments, organizers of the Nicaraguan project say the critical challenge is to make sure people with disabilities are themselves directly involved in developing preparedness plans, identifying potential architectural barriers and mapping local risks and resources.
Preparedness and response plans, meanwhile, detail the number of people with disabilities and those responsible for helping them during an evacuation, while drills and simulations serve to both test the plans and promote involvement of people with various types of disabilities. All training sessions should also be regular and adapted so as to be accessible to everyone.
The Nicarguan Red Cross engages in preparedness actions aimed at reducing inner-city risks. Here, two people from a centre for the blind in Managua explore a 3-D model of the city that shows areas where they can find safety and how to avoid potential danger zones.
Photo: ©Vladimir Rodas/IFRC
The IFRC’s World Disasters Report 2014 makes the case that it is short-sighted, dangerous and ultimately costly for aid and development organizations to ignore the role of local culture in disaster risk reduction. Case studies show how understanding local culture can lead to breakthroughs and greater involvement among important local institutions. For more, see www.ifrc.org/world-disasters-report-2014.