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If You Didn’t Believe It Already, Here’s Proof That Trees Will Save Us From Climate Change

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Holding the distinction of being the financial capital of India, the city of Mumbai on August 29, 2017 once again saw a nightmare that few of its citizens could imagine. The floods on that fateful day brought one of the most urbanised cities in the country to a halt.

In a recent study, scientists have projected that heat in South Asia could exceed survivable levels by 2100, creating serious threats to the health of the population and public health order.

Both the cases can only lead us to question if Indian cities are well equipped to tackle the menace of extreme climate events.

Being one of the top agendas for many to discuss, deliberate upon, and find solutions to, the subject of climate change regularly creates sensations everywhere. And ever since I got interested in the subject of climate change, one particular thing which I feel has been missing from the discussions is talking about trees!

Image Credit: Priyanka Parashar/Mint via Getty Images

Instead of pondering over high-end technologies in mitigating climate change, about climate finance and its other ways to help save the environment, a much simpler solution is provided by trees.

It is a simple thought, yet a difficult task with regard to its sustainability, maintenance and implementation. Because, development is all about building and re-building. There’s little interest in creating the basic infrastructure that would have the potential to take away all the environment’s comeuppance and make a city smart in the true sense – where both the health of its population and the climate stay relatively fine.

Trees also have an aesthetic and visual appeal which could enhance one’s mental health.

In the 21st century, the world we live in – the cities in urban zones and rural far-away countrysides – has been transformed by globalisation. At the same time, science and technology have connected the lives of human beings and the natural ecosystem with its creations and subsequent developments. These developments have come at a cost – the climate is changing and this is a challenge facing today’s society at large.

With the increase in population, climate change presents a unique challenge for people living in urban regions. It is projected that with changes in weather conditions and climate events, there would be a huge impact on the population and various issues like health ailments would rise.

Extreme events have the potential to generate warmer and more frequent hot days and nights and fewer cold ones over most land areas. They would lead to warmer temperatures, increase in the frequency of heat waves, heavy precipitation events, increase in drought, intense tropical cyclone activity, with other threatening climate events, with an assumption that all the aforementioned events are virtually certain and most likely to occur. As a result, it would have a negative impact in the population’s livelihood and comfort.

India is the fourth fastest growing economy in the world and has undertaken a gamut of development policies for the growth and development of the country for the next few years. Out of the many policies, one that strikes the most is the ‘smart city’ plan.

In the previous decade, studies from NASA’s satellite data confirmed that ‘urban heat islands‘ (UHI) were responsible for an increase in rainfall events around cities by using the world’s first space-based radar aboard NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite.

It has been observed that cities tend to be 1 – 10 degrees Fahrenheit (0.56 – 5.6 Celsius) warmer than its surrounding suburbs and other rural regions. The added heat can lead to destabilisation and change the mode of air circulation in and around cities.

By 2025, it is predicted that 80% of the world’s population will live in cities. It is now more than ever extremely essential to better understand the impact of urbanisation on the earth system.

UHI is created in large cities as a result of excessive artificial urban surfaces. For example, concrete and asphalt act as a giant reservoir of heat and make cities hotter. The stored heat is absorbed in the day and released at night. The pollution arising from automobiles and other sources are responsible for increasing emissions, which has the potential to increase the phenomenon of global warming.

In the context of Indian cities, with rapid economic progress, the lesser emphasis on green techniques in developing urban centres is now a major concern. It is necessary to understand the impact of rapid urbanisation on local climate. India’s cities are becoming heat islands.

The threat of deadly heat waves and how they might affect health in cities cannot be ignored. It is a public health crisis that is just looming around the corner. Researchers have warned that a warming climate would result in an increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves. It is observed that UHI experienced by many cities is larger at night than during the day, more pronounced in winter and is more apparent when weaker winds blow out.

The combined processes of rapid industrialisation and population growth in the last few decades have been significantly affecting the urban climate of major Indian cities and other developing cities leading to imbalances in the regional climates.

The soothing green color of tree canopies has been decreasing in cities where the pace of urbanisation is higher.
Trees can benefit us a lot, especially in urban areas like cities, by providing urban biodiversity and helping to create a favourable habitat for humans and other animals. For climate change mitigation, mature and fully grown trees could play an important role where cities have a higher degree of pollution by improving the air quality.

A mature tree can absorb about 150 kg of CO2. More the number of trees, the higher the CO2 emission arrest. Mature trees have the potential to regulate the flow of water and in the case of urban floods, they could play a key role in mitigating the effects of anthropogenic disasters.

So, it is important now, more than ever, to think if a mass scale project for trees, and its survival can be projected, implemented and sustained. As Indian cities grows, to make them more resilient, and sustainable for the citizens, green tree cover is a must.

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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, 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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