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Who Suffers The Most When A City Gets Flooded?

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On August 29, the monsoon fury unleashed on Mumbai and brought the city to a grinding halt. Two toddlers were among 14 people killed in the floods. It received nearly a month’s average rainfall in a single day —halting the transit lifeline of train services and leading to several flight cancellations. It continued for two more days until it finally subsided. This is touted to be the worst flooding since 2005 that saw the death of more than 500 people.

Over the last month, several other Indian cities witnessed above average rainfall. On the morning of August 21, Chandigarh had received 112 mm of rainfall, 23 times the city’s average daily monsoon rainfall. Similarly, on August 15, Bengaluru received 37 times, and on August 11–12 Agartala received more than 11 times its average daily monsoon rainfall in the last five years.

Vimal Mishra, a meteorologist and assistant professor at IIT Gandhinagar revealed in his research work that extreme rains are going to increase over the century. Specifically, he found that one-to-five-day extreme rains, at levels found once in about 500 years, can increase by about 20–30% over the next century if global warming goes unchecked. This prognosis does not augur well for a sizable population of poor and migrant community in these cities.

So, Who Actually Bears The Brunt?

Peculiar to Indian cities, a large number of rural folks migrate to these cities in search of work and livelihood. Many of them earn daily wages and end up sheltering in temporary squatter settlements or claustrophobic slum settlements. The city corporation have not been successful in providing basic amenities to them or even extend public infrastructural services like drainage, drinking water or sanitation disposal facility. Rapid urbanisation and population growth has made the situation worse.

With increasing occurrence of extreme events, the adverse impact on health has compounded. A field study conducted in Mumbai by S. Kumar Karn and H. Harada from Nagaoka University of Technology, Japan found that at least 30% of all morbidity can be accounted for by water-related infections.

Such intermittent urban floods further aggravate the morbidity caused by water-borne diseases in the community. The children are especially vulnerable to water-borne diseases. Clogged drainage in sewage system carrying both storm-water and human waste poses a grave health risk. A sudden outpour inundates their homes with contaminated water exposing them to lethal faecal-oral diseases. They have no other way to go but stay.

Also, due to lack of ‘legal access’ to drinking water, many of the slum residents are forced to illegally tap into city water pipes out of desperation or access surface water bodies like lakes & rivulets. However, the water-bodies gets contaminated owing to flooding and become breeding ground for deadly pathogens. Diseases like cholera and diarrhoea among slum-dwelling children is mainly due to such source-point contamination. And unfortunately, the parents aren’t even aware of it.

Fallen Buildings

A recurrent theme for urban flooding disasters in Indian cities is the collapse of building structures due to incessant rains and administrative apathy. A day after Mumbai torrential rain started, a five-storeyed building collapsed in the congested Bhendi Bazar area of south Mumbai. At least 24 people were killed and another 34 were injured. Another building also had same fate last year.

Cities like Delhi and Chennai have also shared the same story at some point in time. A unique signature of old Indian cities is its fair share of old and dilapidated buildings, some of them being from the colonial past. In spite of being flagged off by civic authorities as unlivable and dangerous, people continue to live there. Following incessant rains, the groundwater table rises to pulverise the foundation of these buildings and make them unstable. The unbearable load further crushes the foundation column which finally gives way to collapsing the entire structure.

At a crisis situation like this, the first reaction is to get the affected to the closest hospital. But, are the hospitals ready to tackle the situation in a flood crisis?

Hospitals Need Help

In times of urban disaster or natural crisis, public hospitals project an image of chaos and confusion. Most of the public hospitals are situated close to low-lying urban settlements for ease of access and ironically, floods throw up challenges of their own kind. At times, the public health infrastructure gets incapacitated due to rains and flooding into the premises.

In one of the cases in a hospital in Chennai, the flooding of its power units led to failure of ventilators imminently led to the death of 18 patients. Such instances cannot be overlooked. Moreover, the logistical interruption by floods causes a delay in supply of critical medicines and health instruments that can prove to be expensive at such times. At times, it also restricts the movement of medical personnel in attending to the patients.

Another challenge is disposal of medical waste. The floods have high probability of carrying hazardous chemicals and infections to nearby population and further spread them.

Almost all of these challenges can be managed, provided civic authorities are foresighted to make the urban landscape resilient to climate change events and are adequately prepared for any disaster. The various agencies need to coordinate swiftly in terms of city-wise disaster management framework that alleviate confusion and foster cooperation. The natural flood protection systems like urban wetlands and rivers need to be preserved and maintained sustainably. They provide a cushion to absorb excess flood water. Ironically, sometimes it is the nature itself that can help the city-dwellers from nature’s fury.

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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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