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World Bank must become disability- sensitive

Early this month, the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (Nudipu) received partners from the Bank Information Centre (BIC), and Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union (LPHU).

Rachel Burton from BIC, a US-based watchdog on World Bank operations, and LPHU’s Mohammed Loutify, were in the country to help build the capacity of Nudipu and her membership to effectively engage the World Bank in disability mainstreaming.

Nudipu, in partnership with BIC, are conducting a World Bank safeguard campaign to ensure that disability is integrated in the bank’s policies. The bank is reviewing its safeguards to minimise harm resulting from its investments.

It is hoped that the bank’s recognition of the needs of PWDs would translate into reduction in extreme poverty among persons with disability.

We held several meetings with Nudipu staff and board of directors, disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), World Bank officials, officials from the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, and MPs representing PWDs. We also visited Niminya resettlement site in Jinja district, where people displaced by the Bujagali dam project are resettled.

Residents here, including PWDs, said all that which was promised to them during resettlement was not forthcoming. For example, residents say, health services are inadequate, water sources limited, and children walk for long distances to access education.

Throughout the meetings, one thing I noticed was that more effort is still needed from stakeholders to break the barriers inhibiting PWDs from benefiting from development programmes. In the current safeguards, disability mainstreaming is not provided.

This may keep PWDs at the periphery of development initiatives funded by the World Bank. While the situation appears inadequate for PWDs, fortunately the bank has capacity to reverse this through the safeguards review processes.

Several stakeholders have a huge role to play in improving the livelihoods of PWDs. It is true the World Bank and government have done tremendous work in promoting respect for the rights of persons with disability but the magnitude is negligible.

Majority of stakeholders see disability in today’s perspective without focussing on the future. Consequently, the development initiatives should be designed to include disability issues from the design stage to implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

We have conducted surveys on government projects funded by the World Bank to ascertain how PWDs benefit. For instance, two programmes were studied: Northern Uganda Social Action Fund II (Nusaf II) and Universal Post-Primary Education and Training (Uppet).

From the findings, it was evident that participation of PWDs in programme design was limited. Secondly, it is notable that development stakeholders exhibit limited knowledge on disability mainstreaming. This leads to programmes that are not responsive to the needs of PWDs.

There is, therefore, dire need for consulting PWDs and their leadership while designing development programmes. Some MPs, for instance, agree that a holistic approach is essential in ensuring that the needs and rights of PWDs are put into consideration particularly when approving investment loans from partners such as the World Bank.

This is intended to ensure that the investments and programmes are in line with safeguards that deter harm to the lives of the target group. Crucially, a number of stakeholders need to have relevant and up-to-date information to promote disability inclusion in the development agenda.

A government official, for instance, said during one of the meetings that the World Bank was yet to embrace disability issues, which is why the special-needs sector, for instance, has remained the least funded. His argument is that the bank is a profit-orientated institution as opposed to one founded on the principles of ethical development.

Nevertheless, these scenarios provide an opportunity for the disability movement to further engage the World Bank and other development partners on matters of disability inclusion in their programmes and policies.

This engagement also requires the disability movement to understand and internalise the entry points that will propel disability inclusion. The entry points may include policies and laws, among others. As the umbrella organisation of PWDs, we strongly believe in an inclusive society for all.

And to achieve this, several development partners have a role to play. For instance, the bank needs to ensure its policies and actions are disability-sensitive. Government, too, has a crucial role to ensure its loan acquisition from Bretton Woods institutions meets the needs of the weak and vulnerable people in the community.


The author is executive director of Nudipu.

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