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Climate Change Is Destroying The Planet, And SAARC Nations Don’t Give A Damn

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By Sagarika Bhatta:

Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay (L), India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C), Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (C, standing) and Nepal's Prime Minister Sushil Koirala attend the opening session of 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Kathmandu November 26, 2014. South Asian leaders from Afghanistan to the Maldives met in Kathmandu on Wednesday for a summit that was undermined by traditional bickering between rivals Pakistan and India. REUTERS/Narendra Shrestha/Pool (NEPAL - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR4FO2S
Image credit: Reuters/Narendra Shrestha.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, can make a joint effort, plans and strategies to address climate change in South Asia, pre and post Conference of the Parties (COP) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference. In COP 21, India was one of the BASIC (Brazil, South Asia, India, and China) group. Bhutan is an ambitious country in the climate agreement, Maldives and Bangladesh are among voices of climate change, and Nepal’s National Adaptation Plan is recognised and extolled by the international community. With their respective positions and plans, SAARC nations can play a major role in containing climate change. But the SAARC nations are divided on this cause.

Among these nations, Bangladesh and Maldives together are seeking joint efforts to keep the ceiling for rising temperatures at 1.5 degrees. Nepal, which being in the lap of the Himalayas is directly affected by climate change with regard to its water resources and agriculture, could have led the way with its Adaptation Plan jointly with SAARC nations under UNFCCC. India being the third largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter worldwide, could have jointly developed ideas and plans of investment, carbon trading/marketing, clean energy supply within SAARC nations leading to emission reduction.

Most of the South Asian countries are affected by climate change and are also economically deprived. In such a situation, it becomes difficult to cope with the effects of climate change alone. According to an ADB report, climate change costs in South Asia will increase over time especially in the long term. Unless we use less fossil fuels, South Asia stands to lose an equivalent of 1.8 % of its annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2050. Among SAARC countries, Maldives will be the hardest hit in terms of GDP loss. Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, India and Sri Lanka are expected to suffer a loss of 2.0, 2.2, 1.4, 1.8 and 1.2 percent in the same time period.

SAARC was established for finding solutions to their common problems in the spirit of friendship with one of the objectives being to promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields. Since the climate change issue is a common problem, it cannot be ignored. Among these countries half of them are mountainous and half are surrounded by the seas. But the region faces similar effects of climate change.

With regard to addressing it, during the fourteenth SAARC conference held in New Delhi, the climate change issue was taken up and perusing ways of developing climate resilience in South Asia was agreed upon. Following this, an inter-ministerial meeting was held in Dhaka in 2008. It adopted the ‘Dhaka Declaration and SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change’.

Since then, this together would have made some impact in these regions. In the 2010 Climate Summit in Cancun, Indian Environment Minister called SAARC environment ministries for negotiation but the effort could not be sustained and remained on paper only.

These regions have similar climactic and geographic variations. The ways for adaptation and mitigation are also similar. Yet, there are few joint initiatives that would help and complement each other’s advantages and address their disadvantages in the process of adapting to and mitigation of climate change. Countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan often criticise India on positions in the climate agreements etc. And there is a lack of mutual cooperation of sharing and implementation of programmes.

In COP 2015, SAARC countries showed up as united for a common concern. Leading the SAARC position, Govinda Pokharel in COP 20 had emphasised, “We must work out a post-2020 framework that is based on equity, CBDR-RC and protects the poor and vulnerable people in south Asia from the disastrous impact of climate change.” These countries had agreed to send all representatives in December post-COP to India for a joint conference on climate change issues. We have not seen any progress on that yet.

Another example of their lack of cooperation is that in the 17th SAARC summit, they signed an agreement on rapid response to natural disasters. But not much work has been carried out with regard to it apart from India’s relief effort in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake.

On March 17, 2016, the SAARC meeting has again failed to reach an agreement over any issues to overcome climate change effects and plans for mitigation. It should have been one of the main agenda of the SAARC meeting in 2016. These SAARC countries could have come up with common understanding and a plan for minimising its dependence on fossil fuels as a common approach for mitigation of climate change in response to the Paris climate talk. It would have been based on the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities, and respective capabilities and equality under UNFCCC. The exchange of ideas, replication and practice of adaptation plans to climate change in similar areas would have been things to talk about.

The representative of Nepal, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mani Sharma Bhattarai, however, did talk about Nepal’s successful community forestry programme and suggested that it could be replicated all over South Asia. The programme has been contributing to income generation, biodiversity, livelihood and climate change. “We want to gift this successful model to the rest of South Asia. Other member states have taken it positively,” said Bhattarai.

In addition, India and Pakistan are now to host SAARC Disaster Management and the SAARC Energy Centre respectively.

As an example, EU together aims to keep mitigation as the core of this collective objective, but with an equal role for adaptation, finance, and technology. SAARC countries, with their resources and knowledge sharing and joint programmes, could tackle the effects of climate change very well. SAARC nations can find a solution for now and the future by having a common ambition and by keeping it accountable under the Dhaka Declaration and SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change and the Common SAARC Position under the UNFCCC.

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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.

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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.

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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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