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Racing Towards Doomsday: The Complicated And Ignored Issue Of Ground Water Depletion

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By Riya Rana:

Imagine a future where our country faces a huge never-ending drought, where farmers are committing suicide, states are fighting over common rivers, everything is chaotic, various species are dying and the only available water is as good as poison. Fighting for survival seems the only way as water gets scarcer. Imagine it once again- Because this is where we seem to be heading towards. Ground-water tables are falling at a rapid pace, worldwide.

Our water resources are divided in two broad categories: ocean water (97%, unfit for drinking) and freshwater (3%- glaciers, rivers etc). The world has been abusing surface-water resources for years. As rivers, lakes and tube-wells are drying up, we have ventured towards overusing ground-water for all our needs. It is fresh water located in the pores of soil and rocks, or flowing in aquifers below the water table and is relatively protected from contamination by overlying soil and sediments.

Ground water is vital as it accounts for over 65% irrigation water (compared to 15% in 2005), 85% of drinking water supplies in India. Our dependence on surface water has reduced due to extreme pollution. Yamuna, a once mighty river has been declared officially dead. Would you use water from a river which has dead bodies, garbage, pollutants, and is black?

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Many villagers have stopped farming. They are pumping out water and selling it to potential buyers- mainly factories. This new trend of ‘Water mining’ or ‘farming of water’ is seen as risk-free. However it’s actually producing a vicious chain of events- Water sources are polluted so we drill out ground water. But since its depleting, we drill deeper and deeper. Subsequently these areas face water shortage and produce lesser crops; therefore more drilling from nearby areas leads to a shortage there. Hence- water shortage everywhere.

India pumps out 46 cubic miles of ground-water yearly, while nature refills only 29 cubic miles (through rain). A fall of 4m/year has been recorded. Note that it takes a lot of pumping to lower the groundwater level since they are generally massive in volume. What will happen when it finishes? Loss of irrigation water means end of agriculture, especially for arid regions. How will we feed a population of 1.2 billion?

Simply running out of groundwater is not the only crisis. As wells are drilled deeper, water extracted shows high concentration (above the permissible limit) of arsenic and fluorides, dissolved from hard rocks. When this drinking water is pumped, it leads to fluorosis which causes crippled limbs, deformed teeth and stunted growth. In most districts of Andhra Pradesh, ground water has already become unsuitable.

Globally the scene is equally terrible. In the Unites States, almost a fifth of the huge Ogallala aquifer has been pumped up till now. Its levels have fallen up to 30 metres in some places. Libya is taking 7 million litres of water per minute from aquifer systems in Sahara. In some areas of Dhaka water tables have fallen beyond 40 metres, due to the 1300 bore-wells drawing out water. The Hai basin in China records a shortfall of 40 billion tons of water annually. When this aquifer is depleted, the harvest will drop by 40 million tons, directly affecting 125 million people.

Possible solutions  like crops which require less water are being worked upon. Much of the irrigation water is wasted and lost due to flooding of fields (by farmers) and sprinklers (evaporation). Technologies are being developed to solve such problems. To tackle the ‘water mining business’ economic actions (such as alternative livelihoods like textiles) will lower reliance on ground water for income. The government can only influence ground water usage till a certain extent. Cooperation towards long term goals should be placed ahead of personal benefits. We have treated water as being cheap for too long. If this continues it will eventually wreak havoc on us. Increased awareness, smart usage, careful research might be our only key to a better future or rather existence of a future.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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