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Is The Plight Of Climate Migrants Not Alarming Enough Already?

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WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

Climate migration has been on the rise globally. During 2010-11, Asia and the Pacific saw more than 42 million people displaced by extreme weather events. In India alone, approximately 1.5 million people are classified as internally displaced every year, many for reasons associated with climate change. This transition bears costs for those who move, often to urban areas, and equally for those who are left behind. What can governments do to facilitate this transition?

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (IPCC AR5) notes, droughts, heatwaves, cyclones, rising sea levels, heavy rainfall, landslides and floods often strike more than one district or country in the region.

Climate Refugees. Source: Getty Images

We are witnessing the advent of this in India and South Asia. Most climate migrants, as with other migratory patterns, tend to be men, who are moving from rural to urban areas. Beyond displacement, and loss of infrastructure, a key reason for migration is loss of livelihood. As chronicled in an Action Aid report, a 17 year old girl from Odisha accounts “(Due to drought in 2016), I went to Kerala for the first time. I would not have migrated if we had not faced crop possess. Like me there are many youths who are choosing migrations as an alternative option to survive”.

Yet, life is not easy once climate migrants arrive to cities. As a paper by the IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development) finds, once in the new city, migrants face another set of infrastructure, health, education, security and financial inclusion challenges. With less than 70.6% of urban households covered by individual connections of water supply and over 17% of urban population living in slums, life for climate migrants is tough. Moreover, the poorest people in cities, are most likely victims of urban climate and related events. For instance, in August 2017, the day that Mumbai received 331.4 mm rainfall, the highest in a decade, the migrant labor population living in squatter communities was one of the worst affected.  This is corroborated by an independent consultant on climate change and environment, writing in DowntoEarth, who finds, “Immigrant workers in urban contexts are considered one of the most vulnerable social groups to climate change risks, specifically to livelihood uncertainties such as the loss of livelihood opportunities, resources and assets”.

Socio-Political Costs Of Migration

There are also numerous socio-political costs of migration. Migration of young women, as found in the case of Bangladeshi and Nepali girls seeking work in India can become exploitative, many of them often facing abuse. Moreover, recent political tensions and growing violence against ethnic minorities, particularly resentment towards Bangladeshi immigration in Assam, and negative rhetoric, has made it harder for climate migrants to receive assistance.

There is equally a hidden cost for those who are left behind. For example, a 2015 UN Women study on the impacts of climate-induced migration on women in Bangladesh found that ‘in most cases, migrated male family members were unable or simply unwilling to send money back to their households, leaving the women to find other means of survival during these periods of migration”.

So, What Can Be Done To Better Assist Climate Migrants?

Given the interconnected nature of climate migration, a policy response at the regional scale is needed. The SAARC has a climate action plan, yet the calling off of meetings and low inter-country solidarity means those on the ground are impacted the most. Another form of international level intervention is recognising the status of climate migrants. Currently, displaced climate migrants do not have the same legal protections as those displaced for other reasons, both in their own, or new country. As Jamuna Sheshadri, associate professor of sociology and Delhi University said, “Everyone knows that climate change is displacing people, but no government is willing to acknowledge this for fear of having to recognise these people as refugees and be responsible for their welfare”.

Another gap is monitoring climate migration flows at the international and national scale. For instance, the impacts of climate-induced migration on women are not being monitored by government agencies in South Asia. All these recommendations were outcomes of Platform on Disaster Displacement (follow up to the Nansen Initiative) which encouraged: Collecting data and enhancing knowledge; enhancing the use of humanitarian protection measures and strengthening management of disaster displacement risk in the country of origin.

Finally, while on a macro level, better adaptation can be addressed through a National Adaptation Plan or greater financing from the Green Climate Fund. On the ground, governments need to equip the most vulnerable, such as women left behind in natural disaster-prone areas. Action Aid suggests “The empowerment and training of women in disaster preparedness strategies, including early warning systems, search and rescue, emergency response and relief distribution may be key to their own and their communities’ survival in the face of disasters”. Additionally, safer migration channels for climate migrants should be established.

There are no simple answers. Climate-induced migration is a growing phenomenon and approaching it through multiple lenses is required to design appropriate policy.

This post has been written by a YKA Climate Correspondent as part of #WhyOnEarth. Join the conversation by adding a post here.
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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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