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Pallav Pant: Reducing disaster risk for people with disability in Nepal

Posted: 17 November 2022

Nepal, Alumni, Disability, Impact, Inclusion,

When Australia Awards alum Pallav Pant was 14 years old, an incident in Kathmandu left him with a physical disability. Years later, as an adult, he identified the need for an organisation led by a person with disability to support the welfare of people in Nepal’s disability community. Following the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal, he founded Atullya Foundation Pvt Ltd with the aim of changing his country’s approach to disability welfare from a charity model to a business model.

In his role as Chairperson of the foundation, Pallav now campaigns for the inclusion of people with disability in development processes. He has advocated for accessible toilets in public places for people with disability. He has also conducted a series of discussions related to Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction (DIDRR), providing training on emergency drills and first aid programs. Additionally, he has organised training for first responders and increased their awareness of the issues that people with disability face in disasters.

Pallav recognises the diversity of disability groups in Nepal and the need for greater awareness among the general population about issues that people with disability face. With his experience working in the humanitarian and disaster management sectors, Pallav envisions the possibility of an inclusive society that would mainstream people with disability.

In 2017, Pallav received an Australia Awards Fellowship to study ‘Developing a Framework for Inclusive Disaster Management in Nepal’ at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

The course provided him with important insights and a platform for knowledge sharing. Pallav learnt about the need for disability inclusion in every stage of development, particularly in disaster risk reduction, and the importance of ensuring people with disability participate in decision-making processes. Through the course, he also gained a valuable professional network in Australia.

Since 2017, Pallav and his foundation have received several awards and nominations for their work in DIDRR. This includes being recognised by the prestigious United Nations Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction—his foundation was one of just five organisations shortlisted for the award in 2022, having placed in the top 60 candidates for the same award in 2019. And in 2018, Pallav was a winner of the QUT Impact Stories Award for ‘outstanding and transforming contribution to the real world,’ an annual award celebrating the contributions of QUT alumni.

QUT’s announcement of Pallav as Impact Stories winner in 2018

Through his foundation’s most recent project, Pallav and his team developed a DIDRR guidebook for people with disability and their carers to mitigate and prepare for the five most common major disasters in Nepal: earthquakes, epidemics, fires, floods and landslides. Their advocacy led to the Government of Nepal publishing and taking ownership of the guidebook. Separately, Pallav’s organisation has developed a DIDRR guideline (in Nepali language) and shared it with Nepal’s National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Authority. They also developed a mobile phone app called Bachau for people with disability in Nepal to access emergency assistance from first responders and information during a crisis. In developing Bachau, Pallav used a 2022 Australia Awards Alumni Disability Initiative Grant to design guidelines for accessible alerts and notifications.

Pallav showcases his foundation’s publication, ‘Disability Inclusive Get Ready Guidebook,’ which the Government of Nepal has taken ownership of.

“Breaking the barriers and transforming society is a big challenge. A single strike is not sufficient for change agents. Multiple advocacies using innovative ideas can change society,” says Pallav. “People with disability suffer severely in disasters, whether in accessing emergency assistance or receiving reliable information. With the gaps and challenges in securing their lives, I feel passionate about working to create disaster-resilient inclusive societies.”

Pallav believes that a major challenge in DIDRR is that the sector is not prioritised enough. Various organisations working on DIDRR face difficulties because disability and disaster risk reduction are not yet well-integrated in project design and implementation. Other challenges include low public awareness of disability related issues, difficult geographical terrain that constrains DIDRR, lack of involvement of people with disability in policy design and implementation, and inaccessibility of data on disability and information related to disaster and early warning.

However, with the challenges, Pallav also sees opportunities. He shares that as an emerging concept in Nepal, DIDRR can create a powerful impact in breaking barriers, empowering people with disability and improving society as a whole. Multiple DIDRR stakeholders can collaborate for better outcomes in the disaster management sector to reach the collective goal of leaving no one behind.

Pallav maintains strong connections to Australia. He recently completed a short course on Climate Change and Water delivered by Griffith University. He notes that people with disability are among the most vulnerable as climate change causes increased risk of disasters. This strengthens Pallav’s resolve to work toward creating an inclusive and resilient society.

In September 2022, Pallav spoke about DIDRR in Nepal at the 2022 Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, in Brisbane. Reflecting on the conference, he said, “There is a lot of work that needs to be done on disaster risk reduction. While it was exciting to learn that many countries were progressing with their own disaster management risk reduction planning, they either had only developed basic DIDRR materials or were yet to develop such materials.” Pallav noted that many delegates at the conference, including those representing organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs), were interested in replicating Atullya’s DIDRR guidebook and the Bachau app in their own countries. At the conference, Pallav valued learning about person-centred emergency management, of which there was little familiarity in Nepal.

Pallav presenting on the Bachau app at the 2022 Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, in Brisbane in September.

Pallav used his time in Australia to network and hold meetings with stakeholders in emergency management, including with representatives of Emergency Management Victoria. From these meetings, he noted that “different communities in Australia are working for a more inclusive society and many are very keen to exchange knowledge and technology.” He is hopeful that his meetings contribute to a strong Nepalese and Australian connection that will benefit both countries on disability inclusion in future planning. Pallav also conducted a seminar on ‘Disability & Disaster’ at the University of Sydney with Associate Professor Michelle Villeneuve, who leads the disability-inclusive community development research workstream at the Centre for Disability Research and Policy at the University of Sydney.

Australian Ambassador to Nepal HE Felicity Volk met with Pallav on 17 November 2022. Pictured (L-R) Kavitha Kasynathan, Head of Development, Australian Embassy, Nepal; Pallav Pant; HE Felicity Volk and Shila Baniya (Pallav’s spouse).

Pallav believes that these ongoing Australian connections will further support his contributions to development and disaster risk reduction in Nepal.