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Here’s How Climate Change Can Push 45 Million Indians Into Poverty By 2030

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Climate change could effectively negate India’s economic progress, pushing 45 million Indians into extreme poverty over the next 15 years, according to a World Bank report published last month.

In the absence of climate change, the World Bank report sees 189 million Indians living in poverty (i.e. on less than $1.9 or Rs 127 a day) by 2030. Climate change could push that number to as high as 234 million.

REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

There were 263 million Indians living in poverty in 2011, according to recent World Bank estimates using a revised $1.9-a-day poverty line.

The situation where 45 million become poor because of climate change is just one of the scenarios described in the World Band report “Shock waves: Managing the impacts of climate change on poverty“.

The Unfolding Dilemma For Narendra Modi

Some of the Bank’s suggestions to hold back the predicted tide of fresh poverty appear to run counter to the economic policies of Narendra Modi’s government. For instance, even as the government reins in health funding–as IndiaSpend reported earlier this year–with lesser money for states even after devolution, the report suggests greater investment in health infrastructure.

This includes more subsidised healthcare, health insurance and systems to warn about emerging health crises. A recent move in India to revamp a health insurance scheme for the poor, the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, is a step in the right direction.

Other suggestions–to make assistance prompt, scalable and targeted–are in line with the government’s move to reform India’s vast subsidy programme.

We published this report…to remind everybody…that the climate change challenge is not only about the environment and the climate,” said Julie Rozenberg, co-author and World Bank economist. “It is also about the future of poor and vulnerable people and our ability to eradicate poverty. And for countries like India, failing to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases could threaten prosperity and the future of millions of people.

Four Scenarios For India And The World

Poverty and climate change affect each other in various ways, and given the uncertainty about how things might play out over the next 15 years, the report has built four scenarios of how India, and the world, could look like in 2030.

These scenarios are different combinations of a) low-impact and b) high-impact climate change and of socio-economic pathways described by the report as a) ‘poverty’ (its features being high population growth, low GDP growth, and high poverty and inequality) and b) ‘prosperity’ (low population growth, high GDP growth, and low poverty and inequality).

Source: World Bank

Three Ways In Which Climate-Change Drives Poverty

Source: World Bank

There are three main factors triggered by climate change that could drive people into poverty: a drop in crop yields, natural hazards, poor health and labour productivity.

THE FIRST FACTOR: Climate change could see crop yields dropping (the worst-case scenario has global crop yield dropping by 5% by 2030) because of which food becomes costlier. People then end up spending less on other things or cutting down on how much food they have.

The recent examples are the food price spikes that pushed 100 million in 2008 and 44 million in 2010-11 into poverty around the world.

THE SECOND FACTOR is poor health and productivity. “Warming of 2-3 degrees Celsius could increase the number of people at risk from malaria by 5% and diarrhoea by 10% [around the world], ” said the report.

Source: World Bank

Another impact we could see is of stunting as food becomes less affordable and people are unable to meet their nutritional needs.

Increase in temperatures could also see a loss in labour productivity of 1-3 %, the report said.

Having to spend on health to treat diseases is what hits people the most. People in poor countries have little access to financial assistance–either in terms of loans or insurance. They also pay “more than 50% [of their budget] in out-of-pocket [health] expenses,” according to the report and end up poorer as a result.

Source: World Bank

THE THIRD FACTOR is the increasing occurrence and intensity of natural hazards such as droughts, river flooding and higher temperatures.

In the worst-case scenario for 2030, the number of people exposed to droughts worldwide could increase by 9-17% over a no-climate-change scenario and those exposed to river floods could increase by 4-15%.

These natural hazards affect the economically vulnerable relatively more than the rich. The things they own, such as housing or livestock, are more exposed to such hazards. These assets, built up over decades, could vanish in an instant.

As in the case of the health factor, because the vulnerable have less access to financial help of any form, they have little ability to recover from such shocks.

What Governments Can Do

Even if governments tried to avoid the worst-case scenario by adopting some kind of climate-change mitigation policy now, it would not amount to much, as changes that will take place by 2030 are a result of past emissions, and new policies could have only a long-term effect but not as soon as 2030.

Maybe nothing can be done about the effects of climate change but governments could do something about the number of people falling into poverty. They could do this by giving protection and assistance to those who are the most at risk.

Such assistance should be: prompt (if support is delayed, families could try to sell off what they own to survive), scalable (the effort involved must be responsive to the severity of the shock) and targeted (to ensure that, even among the vulnerable, the program covers those who need help most first), the report said.

The report recommends the use of more climate-resistant crops and livestock to counter the drop in agricultural productivity. It also suggests introducing practices such as polyculture (combating pest resistance by growing multiple crops in the same field) and improving awareness of these practices among farmers. Another step would be to improve transport so that farmers have better market access.

As for natural disasters, the recommendation is to improve protective infrastructure, such as dykes and drainage systems to protect against floods and also introduce early warning systems. To help people deal with floods better, the report suggests granting people property rights so that they have an incentive to make their houses stronger and more resilient.

When it comes to post-disaster relief, establishing large work programs could provide the affected a steady job and income, the report said.

This article was originally published on IndiaSpend.com, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

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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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