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57% Indians Will Do Nothing About THIS: Here”s What ‘Climate Asia’ Did To Change The Picture

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By Rishika Das Roy:

Eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the twelve warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850). The 100-year linear trend (1906-2005) of 0.74 [0.56 to 0.92]°C is larger than the corresponding trend of 0.6 [0.4 to 0.8]°C (1901-2000) given in the Third Assessment Report (TAR) of the IPCC.

Imagine explaining this extract to your grandmother or to a farmer in rural Odisha or even to a friend or a colleague. My guess is communicating climate change gets very difficult (and boring) owing to the fact that the language in which climate change is communicated is one of science sans the human face. This is why a newly launched report in New Delhi is one step forward in the right direction as it puts people at the heart of this discourse.

On 19th September 2013, BBC Media Action launched the India findings of its flagship two-year research project: Climate Asia. The project spans 7 Asian countries, interviewing 33,500 people in order to understand how people in Asia are being impacted by climate change in their everyday lives.

“The majority of the people we spoke to in Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam were not climate scientists or policy makers. They were farmers, fishermen, housewives, and slum dwellers who live at the frontline of changes in the environment across the region” explained Sonia Whitehead senior research manager at Climate Asia.

The India report brings forward the key concerns of the Indian population: the impact of climate change on their lives as they perceive it, what institutions they trust, what responses they are already undertaking and helps to identify what gaps persist thereby helping policy-makers, NGOs, experts and communicators reach out more effectively to those that need information most.

From a methodological standpoint Climate Asia takes a novel approach by segmenting the sampled population into ‘struggling’, ‘surviving’, ‘adapting’ and ‘willing’ to help probe deeper into the barriers and motivators for dealing with climate change. These categories don’t only reflect current levels of impact but also access to resources and ability to respond. Someone in the surviving category may not only be at the frontlines of impacts of climate change but may also lack resources (financial or otherwise), so reaching out to someone in this category needs to be done differently than for someone with better resources such as, say, in the willing category.

A large percentage (44%) of rural respondents felt that agricultural productivity had declined over the last ten years. Both urban and rural groups reported a lack of having clean water to drink and use as their biggest worry. Almost half of respondents surveyed across Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Mumbai were struggling or finding it impossible to take any action at all. A lack of self-efficacy, the idea that an individual can make a change, characterized many Indian responses. For instance, a young man in Madhya Pradesh told researchers: “This problem does not have any solution. That’s why we are not doing anything.”

A comparison between neighbours also provided some unique insights: 90% of Indians surveyed were feeling the impact of climate change on their lives and ability to earn as against 64% in Pakistan and 83% in Bangladesh. However, a staggering 57% of Indians were not willing to make changes to deal with climate change compared to 31% and 29% in Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively.

climate change

This deficit in the willingness to respond to climate change despite being impacted by it in India set the context for the panel discussion at the launch which was structured around three themes: community mobilization and adaptation; institutional or systemic engagements whether the role of the government should expand or shrink in this sphere; and, finally, the role of television and mass communications as a national facilitator for building resilience.

Moving People into the core of the debate

Dr R K Pachauri“The only way to get action at the global and local level is for people to get involved… what we need more than a top-down global agenda is a bottom-up movement born out of awareness, we essentially need to put people and community action at the centre stage of the climate change debate.”~Dr R K Pachauri, keynote address

The Climate Asia findings corroborated Dr. Pachauri’s words with its findings that adaptation was more successful where communities were well informed and with a high incidence of cohesion. Vimlendu Jha founder of Sweccha one of the panelists delved deeper into this space of community action and answered questions both from the moderator and the audience on how to mobilize communities, the youth and move climate change from a scientific and exclusionary discourse to a mainstream conversation. He saw education, reliable information and awareness building as key ingredients to this process.

Institutions: Do we trust them enough to deal with climate change?

“We shouldn’t rely too much on our government. They are loaded down with other things. As a community we have our responsibilities as well. Let’s learn together to do something about the floods, shall we?” ~Climate Asia Indonesian respondent

Moving from community to systemic level responses, Navroz Dubash, SeniorFellow at Centre for Policy Research, commented on the ‘institutional deficits’ that hamper responses to climate change. The Climate Asia data showed about 54% of respondents don’t have confidence in the national government to take effective action on climate change. While this isn’t altogether surprising, what is unusual is the high degree to which Indians felt that it was the ‘government’s responsibility to take action for climate change’ despite having lacking faith in government’s institutions.

So should governments take a greater initiative to improve responses to climate change, or should Indians start responding and stop waiting for that top-down support? The answer is a bit of both. Dubash’s answer offered a nuanced take on creating spheres of action defined by local sub-narratives which focused on developing local solutions but were guided by comprehensive national policies. Simply put, the time is right to reframe climate change, whether by revisiting the development versus diplomatic agenda on climate change at a global level or taking the essence of conversations in Copenhagen or Warsaw to the climate-affected village in Eastern India or the urban sprawl of Mumbai.

Information Inequality

information inequlityEven beyond institutions and communities, the need of the hour is also for a different way of communicating and informing the general public. Almost half the Indian respondents – 42% – don’t feel well-informed about how to cope with changes in weather and its impacts. However, when it comes to extreme weather events almost twice as many respondents with access to television as a source of information felt better prepared to respond to disasters. What we need, according to Vikram Chandra, CEO of NDTV and the face the Greenathon, is not more environment programmes that preach to the converted with no great change in attitudes or underlying perceptions to climate change. Rather, the Indian media would have to figure out a way of reaching the masses with “tinier digestible bits” that can help translate a complex agenda of change into simple, doable actions. Putting a human face on the issue or as in the case of Climate Asia, putting 33,500 faces to it is the first step to such a change.

Talking about climate change to the average layperson has always been difficult (try the opening sentence again with your grandmother in case you had any doubts) but there is no question that, in order, to develop a coherent and sustainable resilience we all need to understand it better, talk about it more, and respond more effectively. Start with understanding it from a ‘roti kapda makaan’ perspective by linking changes in weather with the availability of resources, the domino effect on livelihoods and the impact on one’s own and future generations.

Hopefully Climate Asia will help change the frames around climate change and propel us towards a new conversation and language for communicating climate change.

You must be to comment.
  1. Nanditha

    The issue of climate change begins with an observation of the monsoon predictions that year and very often ends with how wrong the meteorologists were in getting it right.Most of us tend to express anxiety and concern for the cause but it never channelizes into a useful pursuit towards betterment of the cause.

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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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