In November 2021, Israeli minister Karine Elharrar was unable to attend the COP26 summit in Glasgow. Karine lives with muscular dystrophy, and the summit was inaccessible to her on her wheelchair. Her concerns served as a metaphor for the historical exclusion of disabled individuals’ lived realities in the conversations surrounding climate change and disaster relief.

The increasing frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters, rising sea levels, floods, heatwaves, deforestation, droughts, desertification, and water shortages are some of the adverse impacts of climate change. Climate change affects food production and access to safe drinking water, shelter, and livelihoods, and leads to destruction of health infrastructure, among other problems. Invariably, the most vulnerable, marginalised sections of society are the first to have their lives and basic rights to food, water, and shelter undone by these changes.

Why are persons with disabilities especially at risk during disasters?

Disabled individuals constitute the world’s largest minority—with an astounding 15 percent of the global population, that is, 30 million people, living with an intellectual or physical disability. Yet, the unique challenges of persons with disabilities (PwDs) are as invisible in discourses surrounding climate change and disasters as they are in conversations about the resultant mental health challenges.

Understanding the links between climate change and the mental health of PwDs

The issues of climate change, mental health, and disability have been historically viewed as mutually exclusive and unrelated concerns. However, advocacy to consider climate change as a human rights issue is incomplete unless interlinked with disability rights and mental health.

Limited mobility and self-preservation skills during climate change–related emergencies can adversely impact the mental health of those living with psychosocial and physical disabilities. Research demonstrates that rising temperatures, deforestation, and increasing number of natural disasters, and the consequent losses incurred—both material and emotional—result in mental health concerns such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicidality, and violence. Climate change–related impacts can also lead to job loss, force people to move, or cause a loss of social support and community resources—all of which have mental health consequences.

Read the full article about disability, climate change, and mental health by Candice D'souza at India Development Review.