From Nepal to Pakistan: Taking one step at a time in disability inclusion in reconstruction

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The three visually impaired boys are feeling tactile paving and practicing to use
In Pakistan's Sindh Province, the tactile paving links the houses of the families with visually impaired children with the water and sanitation facilities and the neighborhood. Photo credit: Kamran Akbar

“I can fill my own glass of water!” exclaims 6-year-old Shahnawaz from Pakistan’s Haroon Sheikh in Sindh Province. 

Shahnawaz is visually impaired and feels that the tactile paving in his home has had a transformational effect on his life.

His enthusiasm resonates with Sunita Thapa, a resident of Budhanilkantha Municipality in Nepal who is also visually impaired. 

“One of the common barriers we encounter in our daily lives is inaccessible infrastructure,  that does not only affect our daily functions but also limits our opportunities” shares Sunita.  

Thapa is one of the participants of the World Bank-supported initiative “Making Homes Accessible to All” under the Nepal Earthquake Housing Reconstruction Project. 

The “Making Homes Accessible to All” initiative fostered an understanding of disability and accessible infrastructure among masons in Nepal’s post-earthquake reconstruction following the devastating 2015 earthquakes. 

The “Making Homes Accessible to All” initiative fostered an understanding of disability and accessible infrastructure among masons in Nepal’s post-earthquake reconstruction.

From Nepal to Pakistan: Transferring lessons

Nepal’s inclusive reconstruction initiative faced several implementation challenges during COVID-19. It however offered valuable lessons for Pakistan’s post-flood reconstruction in Sindh following catastrophic floods in 2022.

One example is the settlement of Haroon Sheikh in Sindh Province where Shahnawaz and Sajjad Ali live with their parents Shaukat and Rukhsana. Both brothers are visually impaired. Coincidentally their neighbor’s children, Gul Hassan and Sultan, are also visually impaired.

In September 2023, the settlement reconstructed not only more resilient but also more inclusive houses,  through Sindh Flood Emergency Housing Reconstruction Project. 

The Project laid down tactile paving of 900 square feet that now links the houses of the families with visually impaired children, thus facilitating their mobility within the neighborhood and most importantly to water and sanitation facilities. The project also built two toilets, one each on both ends of the tactile paving in the settlement which used to be an open defecation village. 

The Sindh Flood Emergency Housing Reconstruction Project laid down tactile paving of 900 square feet that now links the houses of families with visually impaired children with water and sanitation facilities and the neighborhood

Experiences in Nepal and Pakistan are both common yet distinct due to different contextual realities.  Of the many lessons from Nepal that informed post-disaster response in Pakistan with regards to disability inclusion, we highlight four. 

The lack of disability disaggregated data rendered it difficult to identify the project beneficiaries in Nepal. The Earthquake Housing Damage Characteristics Survey undertaken by the Nepal government did not include adequate questions related to disability to help identify the beneficiaries needing accessible homes. The lack of data delayed implementation substantially as a detailed needs assessment had to be carried out to identify the beneficiaries. In Pakistan however, basic disability data collection was included in the initial damage assessment. In subsequent assessments and data validation, disability data was disaggregated, which helped identify over 100,000 persons with disabilities and enabled the project to undertake activities for disability inclusion from the beginning. 

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The ramp constructed from main road to the house of Dhal Bahadur Karki from Manthali Municipality-5, Ramechhap, Nepal
The ramp constructed from main road to the house of Dhal Bahadur Karki from Manthali Municipality-5, Ramechhap, Nepal. Photo credit: Sulochana Nepali

Differential needs of persons with disabilities were not considered in Nepal’s reconstruction which meant accessibility was introduced as a retrofitting measure to the already reconstructed houses that did not take disability inclusion into account. The building catalogs used in Nepal’s reconstruction did not include a single design of an accessible house. This was a missed opportunity due to lack of adequate and meaningful stakeholder consultations in the reconstruction program. In Pakistan, on the other hand, the project teams regularly consulted disabled people’s organizations and the project has already started taking actions to make houses accessible for persons with disabilities. 

The geographic limitation was a major constraint to employ accessible elements in the rural houses in Nepal. In Pakistan’s Sindh, the project was able to build accessible surroundings and neighborhoods, which was almost impossible in Nepal’s mountainous terrain. Of the 32 houses identified for retrofitting intervention in Nepal, some kind of accessibility retrofitting could be carried out only in 22 houses mainly because the houses were constructed on steep land not suitable for building ramps for wheel-chair users. 

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Tactile paving provides the visually impaired children access to newly constructed toilet.
Tactile paving providing access to newly constructed toilet. Photo credit: Kamran Akbar

Limited understanding of disability and accessible infrastructure among engineers and policymakers was one of the major structural hindrances for adopting accessible infrastructure in Nepal. To address this, more information was added to the training manual for masons on the barriers that persons with disabilities face when performing day-to-day routine functions. The training manual was further modified into an orientation manual for the families of the persons with disabilities to enhance their knowledge about accessible homes. These manuals are being referred to in Pakistan’s post-flood reconstruction. 

Our experiences in Nepal and Pakistan show that even a simple adjustment to infrastructure can significantly transform the lives of persons with disabilities.  Facilitating access within and outside of homes provides disabled people with the opportunity to live independent and dignified lives. 

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Authors

Kamran Akbar

Senior Social Development Specialist

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