1,5 million disabled people struggle to survive

disabledHARARE - People living with disabilities are struggling to survive under the current political and economic crisis. Recent studies have revealed that high levels of discrimination and exclusion evidenced by lack of adequate service provision in education, transport, health and employment services have negatively affected the group.

A 2007 DFID-funded study on disability issues in Zimbabwe revealed that the countrys approximately 1, 5 million people with disability are struggling to survive.

To this end, Southern Africa Federation for the Disabled (SAFOD) has invited Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to consider becoming their ambassador in the Southern Africa region and the African continent.

Director General of SAFOD, Alexander Phiri, said the consideration comes after a realization that disability issues are being left out of critical decision making platforms, both locally and in the continent as a whole.

If he carries the disability agenda on his back, it will bring a lot of awareness. It is lack of awareness among communities that causes disability issues to be relegated to the periphery, Phiri said.

Disability coordination should be placed in the highest office. It should be in the office of the president or prime minister. Other SADC countries have placed issues of disability at the highest level particularly countries like Botswana and Swaziland, he said.

In Zimbabwe, disability issues are administered under the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, where people living with disabilities feel their issues are not properly represented.

Phiri said the inclusive government should increase efforts to fight and alleviate poverty among people living with disabilities as the community has suffered from the results of the political situation in the country.

The inclusive government should make a deliberate effort to address the issue of poverty and concentrate more on addressing living conditions of the poor and the disabled. It is the grass that suffers in many situations where there are bulls fighting and in the current situation it is the disabled who are suffering.

Over the years, the disabled have not received a clearly defined budget from the fiscus but are grouped under a destitute monthly allowance pegged at $20.

In the 2010/2011 budget, only $500 000 was set aside for the improvement of disability infrastructure, a figure which falls short on the needs of the disabled community.

The budgetary allocation we received is peanuts looking at the magnitude of inaccessibility in the country. Under the current legislation, the disabled only receive $20 as destitute allowance when some of the people are not destitute. Destitution can apply to everybody even those that are not disabled. We want a specific budget that goes towards disability and a budget that goes to the implementation of the disabled persons act in Zimbabwe, Phiri said.

Zimbabwes public buildings and transport network has no provision for the disabled who often struggle in accessing the facilities. The current legislation has no provision for punitive measures on structures that are built without easy access for the disabled.

According to SAFOD, an act was put in place but is dormant as a result of lack of implementing funds.

Phiri said most Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) protocols and conventions are silent on disability issues.

Zimbabwe is a signatory to the United Nations convention on disability but is among few African countries that have not ratified the principle.

Zimbabwe needs to domesticate UN conventions. Ratification is not a choice but a must because it will mean disability issues will be properly regulated and coordinated. At the moment disabled people are at the whims of philanthropist who often shortchange them in the name of giving an honest helping hand, said Phiri.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that people living with disabilities constitute 10 percent of Zimbabwes population but encounter high levels of discrimination and exclusion.

To change societal perceptions on people living with disabilities, submissions have since been made to include disabled issues in the Bill of Rights under the current constitutional review process.

People living with disabilities are calling for an active participation and inclusion in decision making processes, policies and programs particularly that directly concern them.

Although previous governments have made efforts in including disability issues in policy making they are guilty of not having people living with disability issues in their structures who can articulate matters that directly affect them.

The President of the National Council of the Disabled Person of Zimbabwe, Ms Farai Cherera, said it was saddening that government and political parties often ignored the inclusion of disabled people in their structures yet they formed a significant constituency.

The constituency of the disabled is huge. There is no representation of disabilities in parliament, cabinet and the executive. Political parties themselves do not have disabled peoples representation in their structures even where they have clearly defined structures for youths and women. It is rare to see a disability committee in political parties. No political party can afford to ignore the disabled, if they do so; they are doing it to their own peril. Political parties need to be sensitive to people with disabilities, Cherera said.

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