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Lessons From The Increasing Number Of ‘Natural’ Disasters

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By Gautam s Kumar:

Hurricane Katrina, Cyclone Nargis, and now Typhoon Haiyan. All of these extreme weather events are ranked as major ‘natural’ disasters and have each claimed the lives of thousands (Cyclone Nargis was solely responsible for more than 1 lakh fatalities). Typhoon Haiyan ( also referred to as Typhoon Yolanda) is the latest entry into this not not so prestigious list and is the newest wake up call for mankind. But just how ‘natural‘ were these calamities? Could they have been avoided? Has mankind learned anything from all of this?


Typhoon Haiyan wrecked havoc in the country of Philippines on November 8, causing close to 3,700 fatalities and $216 million worth of property damage (Source – National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) of Philippines). The United Nations estimates that close to a staggering 11.8 million people were affected by the calamity. The typhoon can thus be described as nothing short of a massive catastrophe. What this has sparked off, is a global debate on climate change that has now become more intense than ever before. With three major climate related disasters since 2000, it has become increasingly difficult for the skeptics to keep arguing that we need not worry. For years there have been skeptics claiming that the climate change is attributed purely to the sun, or that water vapour is more of a greenhouse gas than Carbon Dioxide. And although climate change scientists have consistently proved them wrong with facts and figures, it has taken the lives of millions for all of us to even begin considering taking any action.

The recent UN Climate Conference in Warsaw saw Yeb Saño, the lead negotiator of the Philippines delegation declare that he was commencing a voluntary fast during the conference until the world leaders agree to finally give the issue of climate change the attention it has been begging for, for such a long time. Many at the climate conference in Warsaw and around the world see a link between global warming and the devastating typhoon in the Philippines and share the same views as Yeb Saño, that it is high time we give the issue of climate change and global warming maximum priority. Even though there are studies that point to non human made causes, there has been a global consensus that the extremity and frequency of these weather related disasters has increased due to the change in the Earth’s climate.

There is also a whole other aspect that is being overshadowed by the debate on climate change. Lack of awareness and poor planning has been a major contributor to the casualties. The way in which houses and settlements are built also plays a decisive role in determining how many people will be hurt in case of a calamity. A major example of this is Cyclone Nargis, that hit Burma in 2008 and claimed more than 1,00,000 lives even though it was two categories below Haiyan on the hurricane scale. In countries like the US, proper construction and planning has resulted in a steady decrease in hurricane related deaths despite significant rises in population densities and storm frequencies. In March, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will publish its fifth and newest assessment report on the state of climate change. In the second part of a draft of the report, the organization stresses the importance of constructing more robust buildings that can better withstand storms.

What this means is that sadly, a richer country would mean a safer country. It puts countries like ours where the population is skyrocketing and the economy is tumbling, in a very difficult position. Not only are our residential areas becoming more crowded, many builders and developers are doing all that they can to maximize their profits by blatantly ignoring safety rules and regulations while constructing buildings. I have personally observed numerous apartments and complexes built way closer to the beach than regulations permit. Three storey buildings are easily being converted to four or even five storey ones to accommodate the increasing population. This, thus becomes a case of safety being compromised for the sake of productivity. And what is more disheartening is the fact that it is this very same productivity that also contributes to the nation’s economy.

Awareness is the key word here. For the common man like you and me, awareness of the fact that we are all contributing to the death of millions by being wasteful with our resources. Awareness of the fact that even a single fan or tube light can make a difference. We have all heard (and many of us brushed aside) advice on minimizing the use of motor vehicles, getting fuel emissions checked and conserving water and electricity. It is high time that we heed all the advice and actually start being more responsible global citizens. For the architects, contractors, builders and developers, awareness of the fact that they may be endangering countless lives in their quest for more prosperous ones. Awareness of the fact that weather events are only going to be get worse and that existing regulations need to be revamped so that we are prepared for the worst. Man has been blessed with the ability to learn from his mistakes and it is high time that all of us learn, and work together for a safer tomorrow.

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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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