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A Nepali On How Her Country Is Perpetually Threatened By Climate Change

By Sneha Pandey:

As a Nepali, I am suspicious of the likes of Tony Abbott, Theresa May and Donald Trump – influential politicians of developed nations who have thought of obstructing, deliberately tried to block, or at times even succeeded in blocking action against climate change. I am also wary of other seasoned climate change skeptics, whether it be fossil fuel corporations or the think tanks and ‘scientists’ these corporations fund, who have either denied climate change outright or have shrugged off its seriousness at the very least.

Living in a country that is continuously assaulted by climate catastrophes, I, unfortunately, do not have that luxury. Nor do any of the citizens of Nepal or any number of people from climate-vulnerable countries around the world. Climate change denial is a privilege that is enjoyed mostly by the right-wing ruling elites of powerful nations (and the people that they have sway over).

Nepalis are poor and our Himalayas, hills and plains are quite climate-sensitive. Often we have been characterised as being under ‘extreme threat‘ due to climate change – and not without merit. Shifting climate patterns has severe implications for us. Over the last few decades, even as we witnessed a disproportionately high rise in average temperatures – and subsequent changes in the rainfall patterns and a rise in climate hazards – our people and ecosystems have struggled to adapt to and build resilience against these new realities.

In the Himalayas, as summer temperatures get warmer, glaciers and ice sheets melt to form unstable glacial lakes that may burst at any time and flood settlements downstream to them. On the other hand, during monsoon, as rainfall patterns become more intense, inhabitants of the hills and plains are under constant threats from landslides and floods. Hazards such as these have been responsible for a lot of losses and damages. Many Nepalis have lost their lives and livelihoods, their mental and physical well-being, their properties and cherished assets.

Extensive droughts, which are more common during the dry winter months, are also destructive as they have a huge impact on the agricultural and the hydroelectricity sector – both of which are important aspects to our lives. For example, the winter drought of 2008-09 – when rainfall was fifty percent less than what it should have been -affected the production of two of our major winter crops, wheat and barley, extensively, such that a significant number of the rural Nepali population were left food insecure.

Conversely, the urban and rural populations – both of which rely on hydroelectricity to meet most of their energy requirements – have faced increasing power cuts, due to low river flow. In the past, throughout such dry winter months, blackouts have lasted for as long as eighteen hours per day.

Shifting ecosystems and vanishing flora and fauna in all three regions of Nepal have also had severe implications. This impact of climate change has not only affected the day-to-day life of the rural population who depend on such resources to make a living but also has potential to impact tourism which is a significant source of revenue for our country.

Given the severity and magnitude of the effects of climate change in Nepal, one might think that our contribution to global warming is extensive. But, we are responsible for less than 0.05% of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We have no oil, gas or coal reserves so to speak of. Our electricity is produced mostly from hydropower and the relatively small amount of petroleum products and gas that we use, we import from our neighbor, India. Therefore, fossil fuel companies have no vested interests in our country, whatsoever.

Yet, Nepal – and many other underdeveloped, climate-vulnerable countries like it – have had to bear the burdens of not just our own climate sins but those of the developed and developing world’s as well. A study carried out by the University of Oxford, found that the top three countries with some of the least efficient (read: most polluting) coal-fired power stations in the world were major economies such as China (with 39% of such coal plants), USA (with 21%) and the European Union (with 10%). Since coal is the most polluting of fossil fuels, it is no wonder that these nations are also among the top emitters of GHG – in that same order.

Transnational fossil fuel industries have, often, used their deep pockets to cultivate financial relationships and partnerships with the governments of nations that are either rich in fossil fuels or have a huge market for it. By doing so fossil fuel corporations ensure that they have the power to shape the climate politics of that particular country. For example, during the Bush Administration, according to US State Department papers, US did not sign the Kyoto Protocol – a treaty on global warming – because of pressure from ExxonMobil, the world’s most profitable and powerful oil company. This, effectively paralyzed any significant climate action from the second most polluting country for many crucial years.

Such intimate relationships between polluting industries and powerful governments means that fossil fuel companies wield influence not only over national but also over international climate policies and actions. Last year, during the Paris conference, for example, carbon-intensive companies were not only the official sponsors but were also considered to be stakeholders – and had a say in the formulation of climate policies inside the halls of the UNFCC. This happened mostly because the governments of powerful nations and other policymakers were looking out for the vested interests of such fossil fuel companies.

While the preparation and execution of national climate policies, without outside interference, is the sovereign right of any country, the implications such policies are never contained by borders. Influence spills into international policies and greenhouse gases spills into the weather systems of blameless countries – victimising millions of the poorest in the process.

In Nepal, people of the Himalayas, hills and plains, all live with the perpetual fear of one catastrophe or another – with the proverbial Damocles sword swinging over our heads.  For many still, the sword has already fallen and ripped their world apart. But no compensation has been made, no climate justice achieved.

To ensure that such wrongs are righted and reparations made, among many other actions, fossil fuel corporations must be booted from any policy making arena, including the upcoming COP 22. This must be done to ensure that the steadily rising mercury level is arrested and the dangers associated with such warming is reversed.

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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.

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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