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Six Times Climate Change Stared Us In The Face In 2019

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Globally, the year was a mixed bag for concerted climate action. The UN Climate Action Summit, in September 2019, saw some participating countries present concrete, realistic plans, and not just speeches, to realign their nationally determined contributions, so as to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.  These were in line with the broader mandate, to restrict the global temperature rise to within 1.5-degree celsius of the pre-industrial era baseline.

Apart from government and sub-national participants, the summit also saw pledges by a group of the world’s largest asset management funds, who together control over $2 trillion in investments, to make their portfolios carbon-neutral by 2050. Over a hundred banks also signed up to align their businesses with the Paris Agreement goals.

Representational image.

Despite this momentum, the 25th Conference of Parties (COP), in December 2019, was a failure of sorts, because none of the major industrialised nations is yet on track to honour their commitments made during the 2015 Paris Agreement. There was no consensus on any major rule on the carbon markets, regarding offsetting vs. cutting emissions. This failure occurred at a time, when public support for aggressive climate action is only increasing, following the release of the IPCC report earlier this year, which had indicated we are far away from the intended 1.5 degree Celsius target.

In India, extreme weather events and rising temperatures have reared their ugly head in recent months – highlighting the urgent need for global and national action on the climate change challenge.

Some Of The Events That Highlight The Climate Shocks On India Are:

1. Floods Across The Country

A population of 42,921m in eight of the 33 districts in Assam, were affected by the floods in 2019.

Concretisation, construction near wetlands and mangrove areas, as well as an inability to increase the height of the stormwater drains, in coastal cities like Mumbai and Chennai, resulted in flood situations, already made worse by erratic rainfall in terms of the varied frequency and intensity.

Unless the drainage and absorption capacities are improved upon by human intervention, the continued impact of climate shocks is only going to lead to losses in human, physical and economic capital. With the municipal bodies of cities like Mumbai commanding ample cash reserves, it is perhaps time to utilise these resources in a better manner for the citizens.

2. Water Shortage

MUMBAI, INDIA – MAY 17: People stand in a queue with their utensils, as they are facing water crisis at N R Nager Diva East Thane, on May 17, 2019, in Mumbai, India. For drought mitigation, the Centre has approved 4,717 crores in aid, of which they have released 4248.59 crores in two instalments. (Photo by Praful Gangurde/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Erratic rains and lower absorption of the same by the soil has also impacted the availability of groundwater, across the length and breadth of the country. Northern India is already said to be the worst affected geography, in terms of receding groundwater. This has intensified the use of diesel-based pumps across our farms, further adding to emissions and costs.

With the crop plants unable to reach to the lowering groundwater table, in our primarily rain-fed agriculture tracts, this has meant a loss of crop harvest as well; which has multiple ramifications, in terms of food security, farmer incomes, and distress migration from rural to urban clusters.

Water shortage also impacts the processes for coal-based thermal power generation, which require a lot of water, and which is a leading source of energy in India, thus bringing risks to energy supply.

3. Cyclones

Cyclone Fani left a trail of devastation in large parts of coastal Odisha, with the seaside areas being the worst hit. (Photo: PTI)

Another feature of climate change has been the varied frequency and intensity of cyclones, especially along the south-eastern seaboard. Be it Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal or Tamil Nadu, all have been severely impacted by cyclones in recent months.

While investments in early-warning systems, evacuation processes and disaster management have meant a reduction in the loss of human capital, the loss to physical and human capital still requires precious resources to make up.

4. Rising Temperatures

Given the pace of economic activity in this country, we seem to be on course to exceed even the 1.5 degree Celsius target by the end of the century, which would cause manifold damage.

The challenge of rising temperatures and heat is also affected large swathes of the country. Till 2018, six of the warmest years for the country, since 1901, occurred within the last decade itself. While the rise in average temperature from 1901 to 2018 was 0.6-degree celsius, above the pre-industrial baseline, it was 0.4-degree celsius above the 1981-2010 average, indicating the surge seen in this millennium.

While this may sound less than the 1.5-degree celsius target for 2100, the fact is even the 0.6-degree change is causing havoc to crop yields, water availability and human health – some of these are already visible.

Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, etc., which have seen a higher temperature rise than others, are already reeling under chronic water shortages. More importantly, given the pace of economic activity in this country, we seem to be on course to exceed even the 1.5-degree celsius target by the end of the century, which would cause manifold damage.

Rising temperatures also have ramifications to the pace of snow melting in the Himalayas, which can create upsurges in the flow of rivers downstream, bringing with it risks of floods, the flow of silt and changes in river direction; all of which severely impact downstream communities.

5. Droughts

Dry terrains and erratic rainfall have also combined to cause droughts in several parts of the country.

Dry terrains and erratic rainfall have also combined to cause droughts in several parts of the country. Recent months have seen continued droughts in large portions of Maharashtra’s Vidharba region as well as Odisha, Jharkhand, etc. This has intensified the focus on cultivating drought-resistant crops, like millets instead of rice and wheat, which are more water-guzzling.

Southern states like Andhra Pradesh are popularising millet cultivation as a state policy, and millet-based cereal products are today available, across stores in India’s metro cities; something unheard of a year or two ago. Ironically, the staple cereal of India was millets throughout history, and the migration to wheat and rice only occurred a few centuries ago.

6. Economic Growth Itself Is Becoming A Harbinger Of Climate Challenges

This is a dichotomy, because a developing country which has a population of 130 crores, most of whom are still poor and vulnerable, does require rapid GDP growth to uplift the masses out of chronic poverty. There is no other way!

However, the way by which we are achieving this GDP growth is causing proportionately larger damage. In terms of greenhouse gas intensity (territorial CO2 emissions/GDP), India ranked better than only Russia and South Africa when compared to major emerging markets.

Hence, the way by which we are achieving the growth perhaps needs realignment. One example is to move towards the circular economy model of recycle, reuse, repair and redesign as compared to the existent linear model of take, make and waste. This would help us adapt and become more resilient to climate change impacts like water and resources shortages.

Water and silt shortage would also impact the processes for the granite and sand industries, which require a lot of water while cutting and dredging of silt from river-beds respectively. This brings risks to the construction sector, which is a key buyer of both sand and granite and is also a key sector within India’s GDP mix.

In the end, India is one of the most vulnerable countries, when it comes to climate change-related shocks. No other country on earth has a population comparable to us at the level of average income our people have.

China, with an equally large population, is far richer and hence better placed to pay for the changes required to tackle the climate crisis. Indonesia and Brazil, the next most populous countries amongst emerging markets, are also better-off than India on a per capita basis.

Moreover, the increase in the Gini Coefficient in recent years has only deepened the divide between the haves and have-nots, making India’s poor even more vulnerable to externalities like climate change. If there was ever a time for concerted action on climate change issues, the time is now for India!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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