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Why The Water Crisis In Shimla Should Be A Wake Up Call For All of Us

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At the beginning of this year, many of you might have read about Cape Town’s severe drought crisis.

Their situation was so bad that water scarcity forced the city’s officials to plan for Day Zero – the day all the water supply would be cut off for all households and offices. In addition to this, the water usage limit of the residents was to be restricted to 50 litres per day to save existing water resources. Luckily, Day Zero was called off when major rain predictions were made for the city.

But, honestly, how many more times are we going to get lucky? This question has bothered me ever since I read about South Africa’s water crisis.

I mean, can you and I imagine living like that? Are we prepared for such a scenario in the near future? Most importantly, do we want such a future knowingly when all the knowledge to save water is available with us right now?

True, we have heard of many similar incidents in the past, but a recent estimation in the 2018 edition of the United Nations World Water Development Report alarmed me more than ever. It stated that some 5 billion people would face a water crisis by 2050. The reasons for the same are not new to me and you but they should be enough for us to take action and protect the world’s depleting water resources immediately.

This report stated that climate change, shifting weather patterns, increase in demand for water along with depleting water resources etc. are all to blame. But where does this blame really come from?

The answer is obvious.

Water Crisis Back Home

Now, let’s come to India for a minute, and take the example of the recent water crisis in Shimla.

Was it a new occurrence in our country? No. Then why should we pay heed now? Because the time to continue living our lives as if nothing can affect us is long gone!

People waiting with empty containers for water tanker during the water crisis in Shimla town at Kachi Ghati, on May 31, 2018 in Shimla, India. Photo by Deepak Sansta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Just as humans have evolved over time, our environment and other natural resources have changed too. But nature simply cannot recharge or replenish itself if we don’t do our part in protecting it.

For instance, Shimla city in the 17th – 18th century was built for a capacity of some 25,000 people. Today, the city with a permanent population of almost two lakh people and a floating tourist population of another lakh is struggling to provide water. In fact, this was the struggle last month. With such a population, the city requires 45 MLD (million litres per day) but is currently getting only 22-23 MLD. In such a scenario, it is obvious that everyone has been affected, including hospitals, schools, colleges, offices and hotels. Household activities such as bathing, washing clothes, cooking etc. also have had to be regulated by residents.

With a city like Shimla, which had natural water springs and some 5-6 major water sources like Gumma, Giri, Ashwini Khan, this kind of water crisis should have ideally not arisen.

Over the years, unplanned construction, infrastructure development along with population growth and constant usage of water resources without ensuring sustainability have brought about such a situation.

True, we can still depend on rainfall but monsoons have become unpredictable in many areas due to climate change. While officials in Shimla have attributed the shortage of water to a deficit in rain and snowfall, we know the reason lies deeper than that. The answer is very simple. We cannot depend on nature if we don’t nurture it.

After all, Shimla is not the only city that faces a water crisis. Different parts of Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are also going through similar dry spells. Many experts have opined that several hill stations and metro cities are likely to face severe dry episodes in the next 10 years, especially cities with a major dependence on groundwater resources.

Overall, water levels in India’s major reservoirs have declined by 10% this year, and Himachal Pradesh alone has reported its reservoir levels to be 50% below normal. The states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand have also faced similar shortage with reservoir levels being less than 50% of normal levels. Punjab, Karnataka and Gujarat have 40% lesser water in reservoirs.

Water pollution, shortage of groundwater, changing monsoon patterns, droughts, flash floods, intense heat wave conditions etc. all have a major role to play in the crisis we’re facing. The recent floods of Chennai, Bangalore, Assam, Mumbai, and the droughts in Maharashtra are still fresh in our minds. When we live in a water-stressed country, such natural disasters just add on to human, animal, plant and economic loss across sectors.

Therefore, it wouldn’t hurt you or me if we started respecting our natural resources now more than ever and worked collectively to sustain what’s left of them.

The Way Forward

Climate change is real and experts have already forecasted extreme weather events from major floods to frequent drought, worldwide.

Now, even though this is a reality faced by many cities in India, the silver lining is that much can be done with active planning and ownership. This includes the adoption of sustainable water practices such as promoting reuse of treated wastewater, rainwater harvesting, adequate maintenance of catchment areas or planting more green cover.

For that matter, nature-based solutions (NBS) are also an interesting approach to deal with future water crises. It is nothing but the use of certain activities that help restore existing water resources. It is definitely a useful intervention, especially in the agriculture sector.

The UN World Water Development Report also talks of NBS through restructured agricultural policies inclusive of mandatory sustainable farming practices, adoption of a conservation-focused agriculture model with enhanced use of rainwater, increased crop rotation etc. The promotion of green infrastructure for homes and offices is another viable solution which could greatly help cities with high pollution levels. Green infrastructure can include eco-friendly walls like bamboo or mud bricks, terrace and balcony gardens, drainage systems with fitted recycling mechanisms, etc.

Currently, all of us need to understand the relevance of making such lifestyle changes. And the best start to all of this is present in our own homes, where we have the freedom to do our bit and contribute to saving water. We can curb excessive use of water, utilise rainwater for gardening or for washing our car, harvest rainwater in offices, residential areas etc.  This can further help in maintaining the existing supply of any city’s water resources that mostly depend on reservoirs.

Whatever be the method, it’s going to take all our combined efforts to adopt the best sustainable practices today and ensure a peaceful and water scarcity free future for an entire generation tomorrow.

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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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