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Cape Town Is Running Out Of Water, And Bangalore Could Be Next

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WaterAidEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #InDeepShit, by WaterAid India and Youth Ki Awaaz to understand the reality behind the inhumane practise of manual scavenging in India. You can speak up against this form of discrimination and share your views by publishing a story here.

Cape Town, a city known for its stunning natural sites, strong economic standing, and history of racial unrest is now facing what seems to be an insurmountable challenge. As a result of drought, population growth, and climate change, the city’s reservoirs are ailing, causing a tremendous shortage of water. “Day Zero:” the day the local government will be required to shut off all taps for its residents is currently projected as being anywhere from April to June, to mid-July of this year. Water is currently being heavily rationed in the city, one of Africa’s richest, and residents are required to consume no more than 50 litres daily. Many are bracing themselves for what could be a huge environmental and eventually socio-political disaster in one of the most racially divided places on Earth.

Cape Town in Crisis: How did we get here?

Cape Town is the second-largest city in South Africa and is located in a semi-arid region, with most of its citizens relying heavily on rainfall to supply them with enough water. Notably, Cape Town’s famous “Table Mountain” is instrumental in ensuring the metropolis sees enough rainfall each year, this process occurs when the structure traps air coming off of the ocean and catalyses precipitation. Yet, the average rainfall in the city has dropped each year for the last three years, dramatically shrinking its largest water source called the Theewaterskloof Dam as seen in the visuals below:

(Courtesy of the New York Times)

(Courtesy of the New York Times)

The shrinkage of these natural pools of water combined with a lack of emphasis on creating or finding other water resources has also catapulted Cape Town to the crisis. In 2006, the city’s Democratic Alliance rose to power, which championed numerous sustainability initiatives such as repairing water pipes and introducing increased meter systems in the city. These efforts proved to be extremely successful in conserving already existing water but unfortunately were too myopic, in that the party ignored the calls of numerous scientists about the importance of finding alternative sources that were not dependent on rainfall. Currently, Cape Town is experiencing a “once-in-three-hundred-year” phenomenon, and unfortunately exactly what conservationists have been warning about.

What will happen on “Day Zero?”

Cape Town, one of Africa’s wealthiest, lies in the most unequal country in the entire world in terms of income, putting it at high risk for great civil unrest when “Day Zero” strikes. Cape Town has already deployed 200 water collection points throughout the city, each aimed at serving over 20,000 residents, and according to reports they will only be allowed to extract 25 litres per day when “Day Zero” hits, half of the current consumption limits.

Already, fights have been taking place at these emergency points, resulting in a greater police and even military presence that will be more widespread when “Day Zero” hits. The fighting has reportedly come as a result of citizens trying to steal more than their allotted share from natural springs, a threat that can only rise. Likewise, the local government has also had to deal with unethical business practices, as some water bottle providers are capitalising on scarcity economics by driving up the cost of bottles and other essentials.

The city’s elite and privileged have the ability to garner their own alternative water sources, leaving them unscathed by the changing tides of climate, and many of Cape Town’s richest have already installed private water tanks on their property. For the impoverished citizens who will have to live on mandated minimums, this is not a luxury that they will be able to afford. Quite literally, those who live in decentralized city locations will have an increasingly difficult time gaining water access, putting them in a precarious situation between potentially choosing water access over their jobs, leading to potential civil unrest.

A dangerous trend: Which cities could be next?

The politics of climate have already wedged open important debates in major cities around the world such as Bangalore, Miami and even London who have all faced their share of issues around water supply. Although the challenges in each of the respective cities are unique, the common thread that connects them are issues of water waste, infrastructure, and contamination issues.

In Bangalore, the liberalisation of Indian markets has lead to the city becoming a major technology hub for the country, attracting large foreign investments. However, the infrastructure in the city is unable to handle the load of new and increasing development and has struggled to reform it’s old sewage systems. Similarly to Cape Town, the city has also been struggling with extreme drops in rainfall and a lack of resources exacerbated by a population that has doubled to roughly 10 million in just 17 years.

Currently, in Bangalore, drought has dwindled the current water supply, making water tankers and trucks all the more common in the city. Unfortunately, this has also increased overall corruption in the city as well with independent tankers acting as a de facto “water mafia,” upcharging desperate citizens for the most precious resource on Earth. Eerily, there are very many similarities between Cape Town’s water crisis and a potential crisis that could emerge in Bangalore in the next few years.

With more of the world flocking to big cities and rising income equality, the competition for the world’s resources in the era of Climate Change could potentially devastate the fabric of our societies for decades to come. Unfortunately, Cape Town is going to be the litmus for how politicians and governments will be tasked in handling situations like these, and most importantly an example of how to help the most vulnerable in society in preserving themselves through such crises.

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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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