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Killed In Thousands, These Are The ‘Invisible Casualties Of Natural Disasters’

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By Mrinalini Shinde

Last week, the flash floods in Gujarat which killed over fifty people, also resulted in the deaths of ten endemic Asiatic Lions, and over six hundred Blue Bulls (Nilgai) in the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, near Amreli, which happens to be worst hit by the flood. Although floods are not new to the region and to the resident wildlife, the disaster throws into focus the tragic reality that nature strikes indiscriminately, and animals, being extremely vulnerable suffer from severe casualties.

Indian_Tiger_at_Bhadra_wildlife_sanctuary
It could be argued that in situations when there is grave threat to human life, rescue operations would necessarily be focused on people, especially in light of the complicated expertise and machinery required to carry out animal rescue and relocation. However, it is necessary to evaluate the immense loss of fauna caused by natural disasters. Also as human activity continues to upset climate cycles and seismic activity, it is crucial to acknowledge and address the fact that our actions affect species beyond our own.

Wild animals, most of the time possess not only uncanny senses which warn them against impending disasters, but also act on their self reservation instinct, by going towards elevation and shelter. For example, most of the wildlife remained safe in the 2004 tsunami, while humans perished. However, when we domesticate animals or put them in zoos, we make them dependent on us for care and support, as their natural instincts go untested and underdeveloped. Therefore, in case of natural disasters, the responsibility on humans to not abandon these animals, increases manifold.

Zoological parks and enclosures must take into account the possibilities of fires, earthquakes and floods, if they are to ensure the safety of the animals and of surrounding people. Adequate emphasis on disaster adaptation must be supplied while creating the infrastructure. This is in order to avoid the tragedies like that in Tbilisi, Georgia earlier this month, where heavy rainfall and flooding destroyed the city zoo, leading to the escape of tigers, lions, bears, wolves and a hippopotamus. One of the escaped tigers attacked a man near a city warehouse leading to his death following which the tiger was shot by the police. One can only imagine the pitiable plight of the animals who suffer through these disasters, and its consequences on the safety of the public.

In 2010, the Kund Park in Pakistan suffered greatly in the flash floods, losing all its wildlife of about a hundred endangered species including two leopards, 70 deer and 24 bears. In 2011, the earthquake in Japan led to the loss of around 110,000 Laysan Albatross chicks and around two thousand adult birds, along with thousands of Bonin Pterels and fish. Animals are undoubtedly the invisible casualties of natural disasters and it’s time people apart from zoologist and conservationists acknowledge this fact.

As for pets, different people respond to disasters differently. On one hand, many people might prioritize their own safety, and try coming back for their pets later. This can lead to animal shelters overflowing with abandoned animals; the pressure also leading to the euthanisation of some. On the other hand, especially in places where people depend heavily on livestock, owners have been known to refuse being rescued unless their cattle is rescued as well, thus hampering rescue operations, as was observed after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Speaking of rescue operations, it is also important to applaud the efforts of the many organisations and task forces across the world, who take on the onus of protecting animals from natural disasters upon themselves. The International Fund for Animal Welfare, for example, dispatches teams to natural disaster sites exclusively for the purpose of rescuing resident animal life. Amongst many inspiring success stories, are those of rescuing over 2800 animals during Superstorm Sandy, extensive relief to cattle and open billed storks during Cyclone Phailin in Andhra Pradesh, and the rescuing of wild and domestic animals when the volcanoes erupted in Indonesia last year. Other notable organisations engaged in these efforts include The Human Society of the United States and Animal League. Close to home, the Wildlife Trust of India conducts extensive work and research on the rescue and rehabilitation of wild animals in the event of natural disaster.

In a country where human mortality is so high, and vulnerability to disasters is extreme and frequent, it is understandable if our government machinery focuses on saving human lives exclusively. However it is also crucial that we do not ignore species besides ourselves in our plans because the consequences on animals too are catastrophic. Like Noah built the ark to ensure the protection of all species from the flood, we must plan our wildlife sanctuaries, parks, zoos and shelters to ensure that our animals can adapt to natural disasters as well.

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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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