World Water Day: The COVID-19 Pandemic Is A Reason to Be Extra Cautious Today

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Beach Cleaning at a local beach at Vishakhapatnam

March 22 is celebrated every year as World Water Day. But, with the Janta Curfew, the much-needed celebration and discussion on water will not happen today. Maybe we all can become a bit more aware of water issues in our days of self-isolation/quarantine?

The theme for this year’s world water day is ‘Water and Climate change’ and explores how water and climate change are inextricably linked. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, our reason to be extra cautious this day becomes even more relevant. I had never thought the basic principles of WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene) will become so relevant in this time of crisis that I have to set reminders on my phone to wash my hands thoroughly after a certain interval of time for the day. In the summer of 2007, when I had gone for a pleasure trip to the UK, I remember my mother specifically buying hand sanitisers as gifts for friends and family back in India. I remember using it cautiously as I didn’t want to finish the bottle soon. Thirteen years down the lane, in 2020, these same hand sanitisers seem to be prized possession with this pandemic scare. It feels very surreal!

The sustainable development goal 6 (SDG 6) exclusively deals with clean water and sanitation and sets priorities for a shared water future. The World Water Development Report (WWDR) 2020 was released by UN-Water on the 21st of March 2020 and aims at helping the water community to tackle the challenges of climate change and informing the climate change community about the opportunities that improved water management offers in terms of adaptation and mitigation.

Representational image.

The report states that the energy and agriculture sectors are increasingly shifting to low-emissions production systems, with generally positive implications for freshwater demand as well as water pollution. However, the quality of water resources is expected to deteriorate due to a number of interacting factors: increased temperature; increased sediment, nutrient, and pollutant loadings from heavy rainfall; increased concentration of pollutants during droughts; disruption of treatment facilities during floods; and groundwater deterioration due to saline intrusion in coastal areas as a consequence of sea-level rise (IPCC, 2014a; UNEP, 2016). This report clearly defines the terms adaptation, mitigation and resilience for clearer understanding as often times these terms are used interchangeably.

SDGs 6, 13 and 14 have a direct or an indirect effect on all the other sustainable development goals. Water should now be considered as a connector rather than a standalone sector. The report also points out that there are a high variation and low confidence in projected water-related impacts of climate change at the sub-regional scale in Asia and the Pacific. The region is highly vulnerable to climate-induced disasters and extreme weather events, which are disproportionately burdening poor and vulnerable groups.

Water-related climate impacts intersect with other socio-economic trends that impact water quality and quantity, including industrialization (which is reshaping sectoral demand for water and increasing pollution), population growth and rapid urbanization. The latter has also increased exposure to water-related natural hazards such as floods. The indiscriminate use of freshwater and exploitation of groundwater resources puts many Indian states at the risk of getting more water-stressed, the best example being the state of Punjab. There has to be greater and urgent stress on having better governance regimes and standards in understanding co-riparian rights and managing Asia’s transboundary basins.

The Beach Cleaning Experience At Vishakhapatnam

Afroz Shah, a lawyer from Mumbai has been famous over the past few years for raising awareness about the marine litter that is killing the Bombay beaches. His tireless efforts have drawn worldwide recognition and have motivated people from all walks of life to clean the beaches. The cleaning of Versova beach was a huge success. He is a UN Champions of the Earth for all the right reasons!

Taking this cue forward, I was fortunate enough to be a part of a beach cleaning activity organised by my office on 14 March 2020 just a week before World Water Day. We are supposed to do this activity on the second Saturday of every month. I had gone to the local beach which shares the same coastline of the famous Rushikonda Beach at Vishakhapatnam. It was a great experience breaking the monotony of the week and making me all inspired to be back to the office the following week!

There was a significant amount of littering all over the beach. It was not as dirty as those Bombay beaches but littering of beaches are a global thing that needs more attention. Plastic is a menace even though it is an indispensable product. Waste products ranged from toothpaste caps to coffee stirrers, plastic straws, biscuit wrappers, earbuds, beer bottles, pillows to even men’s underwear. I could almost find everything under the sun.

Representational image.

It is extremely important to be responsible when we buy any plastic item which eventually gets packed in a plastic bag. It’s time to switch to sustainable options. All of us have this bad habit of tearing packets of food items, chocolate wrappers, milk sachets whenever we see the ‘tear here’ instruction on the packet and we end up cutting the entire piece. It generates small pieces of plastic waste which never makes it to the recycling process and ends up in the ocean. This, in turn, enters the bodies of the marine species and chokes them to death.

In the Indian context, water is a state subject and gives rise to a lot of conflicts if two or more states involved in water sharing do not get their required share of water. The lower riparian states are the ones facing the highest brunt of water stress in the country. NITI Aayog came up with the second Comprehensive Water Management Index in August 2019 which measures the performance of states on a comprehensive set of water indicators and reports relative performance in 2017-18 as well as trends from previous years (2015-16 & 2016-17).

It encourages cooperative federalism which is one of the basic principles of the institution and such a benchmarking exercise can go a long way in creating a common frame for progress for water in India and also highlight the need for specific improvements. There have been many success stories and best practices from various states that have been shared in the report and are worth it to understand the gravity of the water issues plaguing our country. Different states need different water solutions given the difference in geography, agro-ecological zones and there needs to be a very strong policy framework for recycling and utilising treated wastewater.

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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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