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Improving Data & Public Policy: Understanding the economic and social costs of acquired disability and disasters

Posted on September 22, 2022

Shane Kanady

Senior Fellow, G3ict

G3ict’s Global Policy Center is exploring a new global effort on the use of data and technology to anticipate and respond to disabilities acquired through man-made and natural disasters. This series of blog posts provides context for the scale of this problem and outlines a possible four-part response, including community building, applied research, data science, and stakeholder support.

Today, policies and programs to support the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities worldwide are missing a significant and constantly growing part of that population – those who acquire disabilities due to disasters.

Our initial post provided a baseline for understanding the intersection between acquired disabilities and disasters. We also outlined a set of actions that could lead to the development of practical resources to support how governments, NGOs, and multilateral organizations must address this issue. In this post, we explore the economic and social costs of disabilities acquired through disasters – which are fueled by a global inability to recognize this population and design policies, programs, and supports to address their needs.

Before proposing a solution, we must first understand the problem to be solved. This begins by framing the global economic impact of man-made and natural disasters. Based on recent estimates we know that

· Global economic losses from natural disasters topped $270 billion in 2021.

· The economic impact of armed conflict is at least $14.4 trillion, or 10.5% of global GDP.

· The global cost of internal displacements is approximately $20 billion per year, a significant understatement as it does not account for the impact on host communities or the long-term health implications for internally displaced persons.

· The cost of humanitarian assistance is expected to exceed $50 billion by 2030, and history has shown that this money only covers 5% of the total investment needed for those affected by disasters.

· Put in terms of a current humanitarian crisis, it is believed that the cost of hosting Ukrainian refugees alone will top $30 billion this year.

The above statistics fail to account for the global economic impact of acquired disabilities. There is no method to anticipate and respond to this global humanitarian issue. Persons who acquire disabilities due to disasters are essentially an invisible population. Today’s public policies and programs, the efforts of civil society organizations, and the aid provided by multilateral organizations and private industry are not designed to recognize or support them.

Whether persons with acquired disabilities remain within their overwhelmed communities, are internally displaced, or are forced to flee from their country- this population must confront the reality of their new identity immediately. This group cannot stand by for 10 years for formal census instruments to recognize their existence. Persons with acquired disabilities urgently need solutions that enable stakeholders to adequately respond to the true human impact of disasters.

Today, governments have no means to understand how man-made and natural disasters contribute to the continuous growth and diversity of the disability community. As a result, public policies are made based on data where persons with disabilities are perpetually underrepresented. This contributes to the fact that persons with disabilities experience significant disparities in health outcomes, access to justice, educational attainment, and employment compared to their nondisabled peers. The social consequences are continued marginalization, discrimination, and poverty.

In economic terms, countries forgo up to 7% of their annual GDP due to the exclusion of persons with disabilities. The Organization on Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that countries spend an average of 2% of GDP on social welfare programs, including disability benefits. Arguably, these figures fall well short of representing the whole story because we collectively fail to recognize the size and diversity of those who acquire disabilities due to disasters.

The efforts of governments, NGOs, multilateral organizations, and even companies will fail to meet the needs of society if millions of people with acquired disabilities worldwide continue to remain invisible. Recognizing this risk of perpetual failure, we believe there is a need to coordinate the expertise of stakeholders to develop practical and sustainable public policy and societal interventions.

Our next post will focus on our vision of a data and technology approach to address this global humanitarian problem. We believe such an approach could result in better public policy, improve the outcomes of humanitarian aid, and mitigate risks that contribute to acquired disabilities. G3ict welcomes engagement with all interested parties. Please contact Shane Kanady at to join our community.