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12% Rise In Deaths Due To Pollution, But Does India Care Enough To Fix The Problem?

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By Krishna Kala Baskaran:

Last year, Delhi’s urban populace which had largely been apathetic towards combating pollution woke up to news reports of dangerously high levels of toxins in the air they breathe. The level of pollution was so high that the government asked schools to shut because studies found that more than one million of the capital’s children would never gain full lung functionality. The Delhi government brought out the odd-even plan to bring down the level of pollution for a short term. After overwhelming support, a second instalment of the same was instated last week.

The effectiveness of the plan in bringing down pollution as a whole is debatable and the mass appeal can be ascribed to the reduction in traffic. 20% of Delhi’s pollutants come from vehicles especially the ones that run on diesel. The plan could bring down pollution from this source for a short term. Even with the plan in action, a look at recent air quality data suggests that the amount of toxins in the air has been dangerously high.

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Tables 1 and 2: Air quality data collected between 17/04/2016 and 18/04/2016.

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The data shows the amount of just two of many pollutants and it is evident that the levels have been higher than national standards in most areas. It is to be noted that the WHO standards for the same are more stringent than the Indian national standards.

Delhi’s pollution is just the tip of the iceberg. 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are found in India. Reports from cities like Mumbai, suburban Chennai have shown worse air quality readings when compared to Delhi. Even then, the efforts of the government in combating such an imminent threat seems very minimal.

Health Costs Of Air Pollution:

A woman on a motorcycle covers her face from smoke coming from burning garbage dump in Jammu December 7, 2009. The biggest climate meeting in history, with 15,000 participants from 192 nations, opened in Copenhagen on Monday with hosts Denmark saying an unmissable opportunity to protect the planet was "within reach". REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta (INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY TRANSPORT) - RTXRKSW
Image credit: Reuters/Mukesh Gupta.

Unabated pollution has long-ranging effects on health. As seen, the children and the elderly are most sensitive to even mildly dangerous levels of pollution. A study by the OECD released in 2014 showed that, between 2005 and 2010, the number of deaths due to air pollution rose by 12% in India when compared to China’s 5% and is probably larger in the following years. The National Health Profile report of 2015 showed a 30% increase in acute respiratory infections from 2010 when air quality slipped from bad to worse. A more recent survey showed that more than half of the deaths due to air pollution occurs in India and China.

With one of the lowest per capita health expenditures in the world, India is ill-equipped to face an epidemic of respiratory problems arising due to pollution. The poor who are the most exposed and vulnerable will be at the receiving end of the impacts. Failure to take measures to stem this issue can lead to very high human resource and economic costs. Economists and environmentalists have calculated that air pollution cuts down the country’s GDP by, at least, 3% and thus preventing us from reaching the full demographic potential.

Transparency Is The First Step:

One of the objectives of the twelfth five-year plan is to make sure that the ‘States meet National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) in urban areas by 2017’. With just one year left, there seems to have been little progress.

Even in Delhi where there is much impetus, there are only about 10-12 locations with air quality monitors. Other than Delhi, a small number of monitors are found only in about a handful cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Jaipur, etc. With increasing level of urbanisation, the absence of air quality data prevents us from taking any concrete steps and it exposes more people who have no knowledge about the level of pollution.

Availability of such data can also alert civil society to confront the government in case of inaction. A Greenpeace India campaign has been launched to press the government towards implementation of monitors in all urban areas and release of real-time pollution data to the public. Moreover, such transparency has been seen to increase awareness and reduce a significant amount of pollution which has been proved by studies carried out in China.

Renewable Energy Is Key:

When the data becomes available, it is time for the government to develop general and local solutions that work in the long term. A key step towards this is the conversion from fossil fuel usage for to renewable energy sources and solutions should be formulated in a bottom-up manner depending on availability and needs. Incentivisation of rooftop solar equipment, increased use of public transport that runs on clean energy are some ideas that have been proven to work, especially in the urban setting.

Despite much fanfare about smart cities, there seems to be no focus on the pollution control. With more and more migrations to cities which puts more people at immediate risk, India has to realise that it has to cut emissions quickly not just for its international commitments but for the sake of the health of its people.

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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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