July 23, 2024

Attendees at the conference

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By Simon Manda

Johannesburg, South Africa – The 11th Annual Disability Rights in Africa Conference opened today at the Southern Sun Hotel, OR Tambo International Airport, bringing together over 100 advocates to discuss “Climate change and disability: A human rights response.” This hybrid in-person and virtual gathering unites disability rights activists, climate justice campaigners, academics, development partners and government representatives from across Africa.

In his opening address, Professor Charles Maimela, Deputy Dean of the University of Pretoria Faculty of Law, emphasized the need for inclusive climate action centred on human rights. “Persons with disabilities are among the most negatively impacted by the climate crisis, yet their voices are often excluded,” he said. “This conference is an opportunity to place disability front and centre in the climate justice movement.”

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Keynote speaker Dr. Yolanda Munoz of the Global Greengrants Fund highlighted the urgency of the climate crisis in Africa and the importance of disability inclusion in adaptation and resilience strategies. “We cannot afford to leave behind persons with disabilities, who make up 15% of the world’s population,” she said.

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The first day featured panels on responses to recent climate disasters in several African countries. Brian Katsidzira of Midlands State University in Zimbabwe shared lessons from Cyclone Idai. He stressed the need for a rights-based approach to rebuild in an inclusive, accessible manner.

David Samikwa of the Disability Rights Fund described the challenges persons with disabilities face in the aftermath of floods in Malawi.

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Presenters also addressed legal and policy frameworks for disability inclusion in climate action. Usman Jahun, a researcher at Imperial College London, analyzed Nigeria’s legislative landscape. Auberon Jeleel Odoom of Inclusion Africa emphasized the role of civil society in pushing for inclusive climate policy in Ghana.

A session on climate change and persons with albinism included perspectives from the Africa Albinism Network, the UN Independent Expert on albinism, and persons with albinism from South Africa. Presentations centred on this demographic’s heightened climate risks and strategies to uphold their rights.

The second half of the day spotlighted technology and community-based solutions to increase the climate resilience of persons with disabilities. Nininahazwe Aline of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child discussed assistive devices for children. At the same time, Peter Njovu of the Bindura University of Science Education explored indigenous knowledge strategies in Zimbabwe.

“This conference comes at a pivotal moment, as calls for climate justice grow louder across Africa,” said Dr. Dianah Msipa, Disability Rights Unit Manager at the University of Pretoria. “We must seize this opportunity to embed disability rights and inclusion within the climate agenda firmly. We can build a more just, sustainable and inclusive future for all by working together.”

The second day of the conference had sessions on climate finance, legal frameworks, and building inclusive climate resilience at the local level, where climate change experts highlighted the disproportionate threat environmental harm poses to persons with disabilities across the continent.

Presentations covered the areas of housing rights, access to education, gender discrimination, health system capacities and more as conference attendees from across Africa and the globe tackled approaches for disability-inclusive climate action.

Notable discussions involved:

  1. Research on climate change exacerbates barriers for women with disabilities in rural Zimbabwe farming communities when accessing reproductive healthcare, sanitation and domestic violence support.
  2. The role of international bodies like the UN Committee on Rights of Persons with Disabilities in setting standards and recommendations for African states to combat the exclusion of disabled persons in climate change policymaking.
  3. Innovations like technology, localized solutions and legal precedent are needed to amplify the voices of disabled African children in demanding intergenerational climate justice through lawsuits and advocacy.

About twelve African countries were represented at the conference, including South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, Mozambique, Cameroon and Tanzania. At the close of the two-day conference, delegates expressed a renewed commitment to advocating for the formulation of disability-inclusive responses to climate change in their respective countries, including drafting human rights-friendly climate-specific laws and policies.

11th Annual Disability Rights in Africa Conference

Day 1

Day 2

 

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