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76 Mn Indians Lack Access To Clean Water. 3 Experts Tell Us How To Fix That

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NFI logoEditor’s Note: With #GoalPeBol, Youth Ki Awaaz has joined hands with the National Foundation for India to start a conversation around the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals that the Indian government has undertaken to accomplish by 2030. Let’s collectively advocate for successful and timely fulfilment of the SDGs to ensure a brighter future for our nation.

“Don’t waste water.”

This is something we’re taught to do right from school, and rightly so. Water is a precious natural resource that’s crucial to our very existence. In the last few decades, however, climate change and increased demand have made access to clean water, and therefore survival of naturally existing water ecosystems very challenging. In fact, in India, getting your hands on clean water is so tough that in many households, women are forced to walk several kilometres just to be able to quench their thirst!

This needs to change. But is this really possible? We took the discussion to Twitter and asked three experts what they thought:

WaterAid India

Q: Just how bad is India’s water crisis? Can you share some examples?

A: India’s water crisis is in an alarming situation with 76 million people living without access to safe water – the highest in the world. Over 68,000 children under 5 die every year in India due to diarrhoeal diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. At 63 million, India has the highest number of rural people living without access to clean water.

Q:  Is the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan aiding India’s target for clean water and sanitation access and how has it fared?

A: At 774 million, India has the highest number of people waiting for access to safe sanitation. Toilets are being constructed rapidly under Swachh Bharat Mission but the quality of construction and usage remains a key challenge. Swachh Bharat Mission aims at ensuring access to safe sanitation for all by 2019. However, ensuring access to water for sanitation is not the focus.

Q: How can government policies be strengthened to improve protection of water ecosystems?

A: Government must prepare a comprehensive policy on water, articulating life cycle use of water as a public good, rather than an economic good. India needs to recognise the excessive dependence on groundwater as water tables in several parts have dropped alarmingly. Ensuring water security for everyone is one of the key challenges that India is facing today.

Arun Krishnamurthy, Environmentalist Foundation of India

Q: How is climate change impacting life under water in India’s lakes? Can you share examples?

A: Our lakes are no longer freshwater habitats. They are open sewer collection pits, unfortunately – Kapra lake in Hyderabad, Keezhkattalai in Chennai, Sanjay Lake in Delhi, to mention a few. Several lakes across the country are bone dry and have turned into garbage dumping sites. This has wiped out several aquatic life forms.

Q: Given this, what’s the progress on international commitments that India has made in water conservation?

A: India has ambitious plans as a nation. Lack of execution is a cause of concern. Our scientific standards are still far behind. Standards of clean water, treatment, collection, storage, etc. is still archaic or non-existent. Technological solutions can make all the difference. We make global commitments with very little understanding of local issues. Grass root changes are the need of the hour. We must focus primarily on cost effective technology for urban wastewater treatment and calculated usage solutions.

Dia Mirza, Actress and Environmental Activist

Q: You’re very vocal about environment and water conservation. What makes you so passionate about this issue?

A: Every action counts. Every choice matters. We can’t hope for a healthy life if we wage war on our natural resources. The very basic rights of human existence are threatened by a distorted idea of progress. I care for holistic growth. Growth that is all inclusive. That recognises the riches that we have inherited for free from nature.

Q: What basic practices do you and your family follow at home to ensure that there is no water wastage?

A: Bucket baths, turning off taps when soaping hands or scrubbing utensils, rationing water for cleaning, using less.

Q: What role can influencers play to ensure that young people are more conscious about water conservation?

A: By engaging, reiterating, communicating that we are dependent on natural resources for our health and survival. People don’t cherish what they don’t know. Forming a relationship with nature can really help in conservation. My show, #GangaTheSoulOfIndia, helped people understand that rivers are sentient beings. Our lives are connected.

India is a signatory to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and has committed internationally to achieve certain socio-politico-cultural targets, one of which is to bring the pressing water crisis under control, by 2030. The government has also committed to ensuring access to safe and affordable drinking water for all, and to protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems, like rivers and lakes, to mitigate water scarcity in the next 13 years.

But, as the Twitter discussion revealed, the situation looks bleak. It really is high time, then, that we demand better policies and laws from the government to mitigate this alarming situation efficiently and effectively. And on our part, we can all do our bit to contribute to the larger effort of conserving water.

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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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