Beirut – The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) launched today a new initiative and call to support persons with disabilities and reduce their exposure to increasing vulnerabilities due to Lebanon’s manifold crises—a dwindling economy and a persistent outbreak of COVID-19, exacerbated by the recent huge explosion that rocked the Port of Beirut and the whole country.
“We are happy to bring together a broad array of partners—international donors, United Nations agencies, local authorities; civil society organizations; and professional associations to commit to a more inclusive and accessible Beirut,” underlined Rola Dashti, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCWA. “The Call for Action that we signed today is not a symbolic expression of solidarity; it represents a staunch commitment that our initiative will turn into a reality on the ground, and that Beirut will be rebuilt in a way that grants persons with disabilities the needed access and services.”
The new Initiative to Support Persons with Disabilities in Lebanon will cater for their most pressing need for assistive technologies required to maintain their health and well-being. The Beirut Call for Action, launched under the initiative, will mobilize a wide partnership to ensure that areas affected by the Port explosion are reconstructed in a manner that improves physical accessibility for persons with disabilities to streets and public and private facilities. The Initiative will also advocate for medium- and long-term action, including the adoption of national policies and measures to guarantee persons with disabilities access to quality care facilities and their inclusion in social and economic activity without barriers.
“Persons with disabilities have been among the hardest hit by Lebanon’s crises. We have an obligation to ensure that the immediate response centres around people’s needs and that recovery efforts produce a better Lebanon for all,” said Celine Moyroud, UNDP Resident Representative in Lebanon. “We have an opportunity to ensure that reconstruction removes barriers to physical accessibility and that recovery processes engage all vulnerable groups, listening to their views and focusing on improving their lives and livelihoods.”
Following the launch of the initiative, UNDP Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Climate Action Michael Haddad completed a 4-kilometre walk to raise awareness of the initiative and kick-off an effort to mobilize resources for it. His walk started from the UN House in Beirut (ESCWA headquarters) and ended at the Karantina Public Hospital, a leading facility providing essential health care to the most vulnerable groups in Beirut, including refugees, migrant workers and persons with disabilities.
“One in 7 to 10 people in Lebanon is living with one form of disability. This new initiative will not only serve their needs but will benefit many others in similar conditions of vulnerability,” stressed Michael Haddad. “Making essential services easily reachable benefits all. Physical accessibility benefits the elderly, children and others. A Lebanon that is friendly to persons with disabilities will certainly be a Lebanon that is inclusive for all.”
An endurance athlete who is paralyzed from the chest down, Haddad has devised his own unique “step-to-gait” method of movement, using a high-tech exoskeleton to stabilize his chest and legs. The Beirut Walk for Inclusion is the first in a series of walks that he is planning under his “Stepping Ahead of COVID” initiative that aims to raise awareness and mobilize resources to help mitigate the adverse impacts of the pandemic on the most vulnerable, especially persons with disabilities and to advocate for inclusive and green post-pandemic recovery.
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