India Set To Be Worst Hit As Climate Change Begins To Impact Asian Economies

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According to GIZ, India is the most vulnerable country to climate change, “not only because of its physical exposure to climate-related disasters, but also due to the economic dependency of a high percentage of its population on climate-sensitive sectors.” Heat stress is perhaps the most evident and direct effect of climate change.

Impacts on economy ranging from infrastructure damage to loss in agricultural productivity are easier to quantify. Yet, labour productivity may be one of the biggest costs to the Indian economy. A recent report by the ILO predicts that heat stress is projected to reduce total working hours worldwide by 2.2% and global GDP by US$2,400 billion in 2030. The impact on labour productivity is expected to the highest in Southern Asia, costing 5.3% of the GDP.

In particular, heat stress is most likely to affect those in indecent work – which have longer hours, greater informality and are physically-intensive such as agriculture and construction. To this end, heat stress may exacerbate pre-existing inequalities within the workforce.

Within Asia, India will be most affected by heat stress, losing 5.8% of working hours in 2030, across sectors. In aggregate terms, this will account to 34 million full-time jobs lost in 2030 as a result of heat stress. The agrarian sector is expected to be affected most.

In urban areas, the urban heat island effect is expected to cause higher temperatures, with workers in construction most likely to be affected. Those on the margins of society, are yet again, predicted to be hardest hit by climate change, with multiple deprivations, such as low access to water and poor health conditions, making those in poverty and rural areas most vulnerable to heat stress. So, what can be done?

Working hours lost to heat stress by subregion in 1995 and projections for 2030.

On the government level, this involves consulting pre-existing occupational health standards and regulations. For instance, the Factories Act 1948 and the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act 1996, which regulate the construction industry, are equally ambiguous on the impacts of heat stress on workers like brickmakers.

Moreover, a Reuters article highlights, workers are not aware of their rights, and with limited opportunities, many continue working in dangerous conditions. Precautionary and adaptive measures must be taken to equip workers who will be enduring heat stress conditions, such as adequate water access and scheduled breaks.

For instance, in the brickmaking profession, Bengal, Sett and Sahu (2014) found “an increase in temperature of 1°C causes approximately a 2% loss in productivity.” Surveyed workers took limited breaks, and whilst they were aware of their “physiological stress parameters, such as peak heart rate and cardiac strain,” they were ill-equipped to act on it. This calls for stronger climate change awareness amongst labour unions. Reform of pre-existing laws may be the most accessible for grassroots movements to demand change.

At the climate policy level, State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCC) allow for district, city and village specific adaptation plans which are appropriate to the dominant sectors. GIZ cite, that these might be more effective mechanisms, than national adaptation plans to engender policy change. Adaptation rarely occurs in silos, and the report encourages policymakers to “integrating climate change into district planning process, generating awareness and facilitate access to climate finance from national and international sources.”

One example of adaptation response to heat stress is Ahmedabad’s cool roofs initiative, incorporated in its 2017 Heat Action Plan. As the ILO notes, this provides “access to affordable cool roofs for the city’s slum residents and urban poor, those who are most vulnerable to the health effects of extreme heat. The initiative aims to turn the roofs of at least 500 slum dwellings into cool roofs, improve the reflectivity of roofs on government buildings and schools, and raise public awareness.”

Impact on labour productivity, beckons employers to play a more active role in implementing measures to manage heat stress. For example, in the case of brick-workers, at present, working premises have “limited or non-existent on-site cooling options.” More widely, as research surrounding firm-level adaptation in India indicates, most actions taken by firms are reactive. Action “is not systematically undertaken for future climate risks, especially of large magnitude.”

Firm incentivisation requires integrating labour productivity losses into revenue forecasts, especially in the longer term. Initiatives such as Carbon Disclosure Project, or Transition Pathway Initiative, may help nudge firms in this direction. Carbon and climate risk disclosure further incentivises early movers in adaptation, as private sector players may want to minimise their losses.

There has been growing appetite for this, with 52 Indian companies responding to CDP’s Climate Change questionnaire, in 2018. Some of the leading companies incorporating climate risk have been construction firms such as Ambuja Cement and Tata Steel, both receiving a level 4 (Strategic Assessment), the highest category, on the TPI. Given the impact of heat stress on workers in these sectors, it is important for behaviour change to occur imminently.

Overall, businesses need technological investments and behavioural change to cope with increasing heat stress. The ILO calls for skills development and awareness raising amongst workers in high risk sectors: agriculture and construction. In the longer term, as India undergoes a structural transformation away from agriculture, governments need to avoid adopting a myopic sectoral approach. Rapid urbanisation and heat stress faced in cities, needs to be ever present on the agenda.

Financing for climate adaptation also remains a key task. As the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change note, “Private sector involvement is especially relevant considering that the five-year total budget requirement of State action plans on climate change altogether is £114 billion… even with support from the developed world, which India seeks in Paris, financing adaptation will require greater engagement and effort.”

In terms of adaptation, India is actively seeking global climate change adaptation finance sources, such as the Adaptation Fund, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Yet, these need to be an acceleration tool as opposed to a stepping-stone to adaption implementation.

The risk of heat stress to labour productivity is evident. Governments, employers and workers need to partner together to better prepare for increasingly hotter working conditions. The consequences are equally clear. Together, we still have the chance to retain productivity and adapt accordingly.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Biswarup Ganguly/Wikimedia Commons.
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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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