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How Can We Make Infrastructure More Resilient For Climate Change Adaptation?

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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.

Mitigation and adaptation are two approaches to tackle climate change. Mitigation refers to breakthrough solutions, innovations and paradigm transformations to change business-as-usual. It typically requires more investment, science, and the gestation-period, to try out workable solutions for longer. Adaptation derives from adjust, i.e. how we adjust to the adverse impacts of climate change in an effective and efficient manner without waiting for breakthrough innovations or paradigm transformation, because simply put, we cannot just sit and wait that long! Adaptation refers to reducing the vulnerabilities of our social and natural ecosystems to climate shocks and build our resilience against them.

Most global discourse around climate change solutions has revolved around mitigation, rather than adaptation. Talking about paradigm transformations and innovations sounds fancier at conferences and public forums. It creates that ‘wow’ factor. At the risk of sounding undiplomatic, there is also scope to pull much more monies for a mitigation project, especially in developing countries’ projects, where green-washed and inconsistent monitoring data often raise questions, whilst accounting for every invested dollar.

Adaptation does not often create that big-bang, wow image. The scope for fancy-talk at elite events is much less. Not surprisingly, the amount of finance approved by the multilateral climate funds is more for mitigation than adaptation. However, change is occurring now. There is a growing realisation, especially amongst the discussants from the government bodies, development agencies and the United Nations, that there is not much time to sit and wait for big-bang, and often scientifically untested, mitigation strategies and that adaptation offers a low-hanging fruit. This is a positive move.

What Is The Best ‘First-Step’ To Start Thinking About Adaptation Strategies?

It starts by creating a resilient infrastructure. Resilience is our, and our resources’, ability to withstand climate shocks. Our infrastructure would anyway be impacted by the physical effects of climate change, both directly and indirectly. To provide some perspective, an extreme flood situation in a city affects our roads and houses (direct impact), but the flood also hits electricity and transport networks which causes business losses to the enterprises in that city (indirect impact). All these form part of our infrastructure. Humans also form part of the infrastructure, since the losses caused by a flood would also impact human capital in terms of continuity, productivity and motivation.

Resilient infrastructure could include anything from improving the city’s drainage system to reduce flooding risks, using porous pavements instead of conventional block pavements to reduce the use of GHG-creating cement/concrete, while facilitating rainwater infiltration into the ground-water table. Additionally, investing in early-warning and monitoring systems, building sea-walls around low-lying coastal areas, changing the composition of materials used for roads, so that they do not easily deform to heat-waves or floods, building irrigation channels or water storage infrastructure to divert flood-waters from collecting in plains or where the absorbing wetlands are now ruined.

Changing the height or materials used in electricity lines to reduce the risk from water corrosion and/or floods, fitting tin/cement roofs in village huts to reduce the damage to homes from extreme rains, using less glass in tall buildings to reduce heat entrapment and the high need for air-conditioning, or  creating flexible work-from-home working systems are other options.

In their annual economic plans, policymakers need to prioritise retrofitting of infrastructure assets, to better withstand climate shocks with hard defences or similar engineering solutions, or even nature-based solutions. Economics-wise, climate-resilient infrastructure would increase the service life of that infrastructure, thus protecting returns and reducing losses. Benefits could include lower insurance claims, or maybe even premiums, apart from lower repair costs. It would also reduce the risk of stranded assets. Since future disasters are uncertain, the climate fund industry finds it difficult to discount climate investments. In this context, engineered retrofits to existing, or currently being built, infrastructure might just be an easier process to implement. For new infrastructure concessions, it might make sense to include resilience aspects in the tender-bid and public procurement processes.

The Gender Dimension

Making our infrastructure resilient to climate change also has a gender dimension. Men and women use infrastructure differently and face different challenges in the absence of it. For instance, in most low-income countries, women would value an infrastructure like piped water more than men, because it is the women who have to walk long distances daily to bring the water in pots. With climate change changing the very availability of that water, the risks to those women increases, sometimes making them easy targets of crimes against women. Piped water, in this manner, saves women from this new ordeal, apart from assuring the household’s normal functioning with assured drinking water. In short, looking at the gender aspects of climate-resilient infrastructure could go a long way in building sustainable societies.

Of course, mainstreaming such adaptation tweaks would require some specialised tools and skills, often unavailable to low-income countries. However, acquiring this expertise might require less time and investment, as compared to mitigation alternatives. These tools could include anything from geospatial planning to identify risk-prone geographies, making vulnerability maps, engineering tools, environmental impact assessments, devising regulatory and building codes. Policy realignment is also needed to ensure the current policy and regulatory framework do not distort the incentives or discourage the implementation of adaptation techniques.

In the end, no solution is fool-proof, especially solutions to climate change on which research and studies are still being conducted as we write. The time is quite far when once can say which solution would work in which situation, without any downside. But our resources and societies may not be able to wait that long, since climate shocks, and resultant damages, are already occurring each year. The time is now to pick low-hanging fruits, and making our infrastructure resilient, and climate adaptation might just be one of them!

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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