A conversation with Rommel Lo, winner of our contest on Anticipating Climate Hazards

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“Over a tenth of the world’s population live with some form of disability, and are among the most vulnerable to disasters. For the deaf community, it is my hope that even if we cannot hear, we can still be heard. We must be involved in making the decisions that will affect us.”

Rommel Lo, DEAF, Inc., A2R/Climate CoLab winner 2017

Strengthening the capacities of the most vulnerable

The UN Climate Resilience Initiative’s first Climate CoLab contest, Anticipating Climate Hazards, sought ways to better help vulnerable communities to anticipate and prepare for climate-related disasters. The expert judging panel included senior officials from UN Environment, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, International Centre for Climate Change and Development, UN Executive Office of the Secretary-General and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

The Judges were struck by a proposal called Improving Disaster Preparedness of Deaf People, Philippines, submitted by the Philippine non-profit organization Dumaguete Effata Association of the Deaf (DEAF). Impressed by its persuasive argument and recommendations for climate resilience support, helping deaf communities to understand and receive early warnings, especially in the wake of recent extreme weather events such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the Judges selected it as the Judges’ Choice Winner.

Creating impact at COP23 and beyond

The Initiative offered DEAF an expenses-paid trip to the 2017 UN Climate Change Convention’s Conference of Parties (COP23) in Bonn, Germany, where their representative Rommel Lo presented DEAF’s proposal to the A2R Leadership Group. He also was a mainstage speaker at the COP23 Global Climate Action Agenda High Level Engagement Event on Resilience, the 2017 Development and Climate Days’ out of the box session and at other high-level events. As a result of this award, Mr. Lo received commitments from a number of A2R Partner organizations to support and elevate DEAF’s work.

Following his trip to Bonn in November 2017, the A2R Support Team had a conversation with Rommel about his experience attending COP23.


What were your key takeaways from your visit to COP23 in Bonn?

Rommel Lo: I had access to the COP23 Bonn Zone and found attending the numerous pavilions and side events with participants from different countries very interesting. I was accompanied by my sign language interpreter and was struck by the fact that I was probably one of the very few deaf persons attending COP23.

I presented my proposal to the Leadership Group of the UN Climate Resilience Initiative (A2R) at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) of Germany. I also presented a simulated typhoon warning in sign language at the Development and Climate Days and contributed to the “Why Climate Resilience Matters" event at the COP23 Bonn Zone where I spoke about anticipating climate hazards in vulnerable countries through Early Warning and Early Action.

What was the response to your presentations at COP23?

Rommel Lo: I think my presentations during the Development and Climate Days, the “Why climate resilience matters?” panel discussion and the A2R Leadership Group meeting had an impact on the audience. Many people said this was a new issue for them and that the needs of the Deaf community and people with disabilities at large have not had enough attention in climate change discussions.

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At the Development & Climate days, you simulated a typhoon warning in sign language during a session titled “Are we listening?” How did the audience react and what did the simulation illustrate about the need to make disaster early warning and preparedness more inclusive?

Rommel Lo: There was a delayed response from the audience to the warning, because they couldn’t understand me using only sign language with no translation. This aimed to show what the situation is like for many Deaf people. Obviously, if Deaf people are not able to receive the early warning, communicate and seek appropriate help, they might not understand that people are escaping from a tsunami, a flood or an earthquake. Also, if deaf people are not able to access the relief services that are targeting the hearing, they might not be able to locate food and water at evacuation centers.

We should strive towards our goal to ensure full early warning and communication access by the vulnerable and marginalized populations in all countries.  This includes providing powerful and visually accessible communication through the use of sign language and information technology. Better communication ultimately leads to decreased vulnerability of the Deaf community to disasters. 

What has been the main focus of DEAF work after COP23?

Rommel Lo: The main focus of DEAF work is on the empowerment of its Deaf leaders and members through skills training and livelihood activities. Furthermore, a workshop of Filipino Sign Language has aimed to increase the number of volunteers and interpreters to match government needs.

We also advocate for targeting Deaf communities and raising awareness, including the recognition of the International Day of Sign Language (IDSL) every year in September. We are also collaborating on disaster risk reduction and management under LGU-Dumaguete and Philippine Red Cross (Chapter Dumaguete) on specific Survival Sign Language that guides how to communicate among Deaf people before or after an alert for an emergency hazard is given.

The UN Climate Resilience Initiative (A2R) and InsuResilience are collaborating with MIT Climate CoLab on a second contest on ‘Absorbing Climate Impacts’. What advice would you give to proposal writers in this second contest?

Rommel Lo: My advice to the proposal writers for the contest on “Absorbing Climate Impacts” is to also consider alternatives to improving the PWDs (person with disabilities) livelihoods and skills training, as this can reduce their poverty and vulnerability to climate impacts. Collaboration with government and private sectors is also important, and it can be a way to provide insurance and social protection such as social welfare, healthcare and education with a specific focus on disabled people.

Yassamin AnsariComment