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Is The Beautiful City Of Venice Destined To Be The New Atlantis?

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By Rhea Kumar:

Once upon a time there was an island. An island with picturesque surroundings and happy, hard working people. Removed from the hustle and bustle of mainland life, it was but a pinprick on the map of the world, but for its people, it was the whole universe. Then one day, this beautiful island disappeared underwater.

This short story may remind you of the myth of Atlantis, the ancient island in the Mediterranean Sea that sank under water due to the wrath of the Gods. Yet today, many islands and coastal areas across the world are meeting the same fate as the Atlantis.


Here are some alarming facts. In the next 20 years, Venice, the city of canals and gondolas, may sink up to 3.2 inches relative to the sea. The city has been sinking at a steady rate of 2 mm per year, owing to various natural factors, and has also experienced floods in recent times, but the rate of sinking is set to double in the next few years due to sea level rises. That means Venice may disappear off the face of the earth in a century’s time! Venice is also tilting alarmingly towards the east, according to recent studies.

Unfortunately, inhabitants of many other islands are also rapidly running out of time. As many as 90 other Indian islands in the Bay of Bengal are at ‘real risk’ of disappearing in the next century. The island of Pondicherry faces similar threats as do other low lying coastal areas across the world. There are several causes behind this little known but flabbergasting phenomenon: including tectonic movements in the Adriatic sea, compression of land due to heavy construction, the changing course of rivers and soil erosion and sinking due to groundwater depletion. The causes vary from place to place and study to study, but one common cause that runs across all these instances is global warming. Global warming has had a twofold effect on these islands: it has increased the sea surface temperatures and led to melting of glaciers. The end result is rising sea levels, leading to flooding, sinking and rapid disappearance of islands.

You may think that the disappearance of a few remote islands is no major catastrophe. You may also think that a century is a long time, too long for us to be so concerned. Yet consider this, many of these islands have already become uninhabitable due to excessive flooding and erosion, creating a fresh stream of refugees, the `climate refugees’. In the Sunderbans, people are being deported to other islands as their homes get washed under the sand. They enjoy no security of tenure in their new homes, and are often evicted by the government to make way for construction projects.

The damage doesn’t stop there, it is likely to come much closer home and sooner than we may anticipate. The problem has already extended beyond coastal areas into hamlets in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. And it is set to hit mainland cities too. For centuries, the mangroves in the Sunderbans have protected the mainland from large tropical storms. The disappearance of islands in the Sunderbans and the subsequent destruction of mangroves have increased the threat of devastating storms hitting nearby cities like Kolkata or Dhaka. Which means that your city and your home could be the next target.

So, what is the solution? In Venice, city leaders are investing about 2 to 3 million Euros in installing heavy steel gates to block water from flooding Venice. Pondicherry is planning to bring in artificial sand reserves to bring down the rate of coastal erosion, a technology that it is borrowing from France. Yet these measures are short term and will only stop the floods for another 20-30 years. What we need is a sustainable and long term solution to save these islands from becoming another Atlantis. The future of these islands, their people, and to a considerable extent, the entire human civilization, is at stake.

The only solutions that can help us achieve this are the ones that address the root cause, global warming. Nations and industries need to shift their production processes to incorporate alternative and Eco friendly forms of technology that cut their carbon footprint, and thereby reduce global warming. An interesting theory put forward by Princeton University is that of ‘stabilization wedges’. This proposes that greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced from a variety of sources with technologies available in the next few decades, rather than relying on an enormous change in a single area. They suggest seven wedges that could each reduce and stabilize emissions: improvements in energy efficiency of vehicles, increased use of wind and solar power, hydrogen produced from renewable sources, biofuels (produced from crops), natural gas, nuclear power and planting more trees for storing carbon dioxide (called carbon sequestration).

And we, as individuals, need to be a little more vigilant and discerning when utilizing energy. This does not necessarily mean a lower standard of living or returning to the primitive ages. If we could just switch off extra lights and fans, walk short distances and use public transport more frequently, we would have given our due to the earth, to humanity and to posterity.

The annual climate change conferences in the aftermath of the Kyoto Protocol regularly witness a power game between developed and developing countries, as each block presses the other to reduce its carbon emissions. While delegates in crisp suits and trendy dresses debate on the nuances of clauses and sub-clauses, somewhere, another family is losing their home. Another farmer is watching his crop go to ruin. Another piazza sinks slowly into the sea. And another island is turning into the next Atlantis.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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