12 Oct Disaster awareness focuses on disability
A local man is asking people to consider those with a disability for Disaster Awareness Day on October 13.
The day is an international event, which this year is focusing on some one billion people around the world who live with some form of disability.
Advocate for Cook Islands National Disability Council Mataiti Mataiti’s nervous system was damaged after eating parrot fish with ciguatera poisoning in 2007.
In 2009 he was walking home after work from Arorangi to Nikao when his wife rang and told him there was a tsunami alert.
“I was thinking: ‘What’s going to happen to me? I can’t even run or walk faster and what makes it worse is, I don’t have credit on my mobile to text someone in case the tsunami struck’. Anyway, I just kept on walking as fast as I could, just to reach home.”
Mataiti said he was surprised that no-one stopped to assist him.
“I was really angry about the situation I was in: as I was coming home, vans, pickup trucks and cars were passing me heading for higher ground with their families.
“What’s surprising to me is that some of those who passed me know me well and know my disability, and I know them well. One van passed me and the lady looked me in the eye but didn’t stop or call out.
“Maybe some of those people were scared, that’s why they didn’t have time to stop or call out. But I was scared too.
“Luckily the tsunami did not happen and the fact is, if it had happened I presume you wouldn’t hear this story,” he said.
Mataiti said it is a good idea for those living near someone with a disability to check if they will need help in the event of an emergency, and plan what they will do together.
“That way an emergency need not also be a disaster,” he said.
Frances Topa-Fariu said the Red Cross regards people with a disability as a key vulnerable group for disaster risk reduction preparedness.
“During disaster emergency response, our post disaster assessments provide for direct engagement with the vulnerable ensuring accuracy in the type of humanitarian assistance we provide to alleviate suffering and support recovery.
“Support provided post disaster is mainly, transportation of the disabled if needed, relief supplies depending on the need, counselling support and first aid,” she said.
“In peace time, the Cook Islands Red Cross provides transportation support to the Creative Centre for the pick-up and drop-off of the disabled students, and an oxygen machine that we give for free use to the elderly or disabled to assist with breathing difficulties.”
National Disability Council co-ordinator Pat Farr said the council became aware of the disaster and disability issue through Mataiti’s story, and then later through the world-wide campaign.
“As advocates for Persons with Disability, we always try to involve the whole community and get everyone involved,” she said.
Read Mataiti Mataiti’s story in Cook Islands Maori on page 7.