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“COVID-19 Pandemic Is By Far The Loudest Warning To Humans On Climate Emergency”

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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.

COVID-19 pandemic continues to storm the safe confines of our homes, offices and public spaces. Our inflated egos, riding high on the wave of technological marvels and cushy rhythm of life, has long been punctured. Factories have stopped billowing smoke. Automobile engines have fallen silent. Missiles, tanks and bombs lie quietly in the closet even as novel Corona ‘spike ball’ shaped virus mocks at the helplessness and hubris of humanity. Mankind is virtually living on the edge, and even a simple handshake is likely to put a doubt in one’s mind about the spread of the contagion.

It is being speculated that Corona pandemic is going to fundamentally alter our perceptions and attitudes about planet earth and climate change.

‘Lockdown’ and ‘Quarantine’ may now possibly come close second and third in the race for the Word of the Year-2020. No prizes here for guessing word of the year. Take your pick. What would you prefer? Corona or COVID-19? These terms are going to enter the lexicon of human ecology and shall continuously challenge the probing minds of our scientific community and health professionals for long. A complete new vocabulary is being coined in the wake of Corona pandemic.

Predictions worldwide point towards a long haul in the global fight against this pandemic, and it is being speculated that Corona pandemic is going to fundamentally alter our perceptions and attitudes about planet earth and climate change. India has clocked almost 15,000 corona positive cases till date, and figures change with each passing hour. World over, the situation continues to be grim with most of Europe severely affected, and the United States and China struggling to take a grip on the spread of the disease. Many crucial questions, however, remain unanswered.

Pandemics And Environmental Degradation

An often asked question is: What is the origin of Coronavirus? There are theories that Coronavirus jumped into the human chain of transmission through bats. But that’s about it. It is a theory only. It, however, underlines one vital truth. For ages now, human beings have transgressed and invaded the close-knit forest ecosystems to satiate their necessity and greed.

It is estimated that before human beings started destroying rainforests, it covered 15% of the planet, but today, it only covers 5% of the earth. In the process of deforestation, we have risked too many things. Climate experts are vociferously arguing that the destruction of forest spaces is bringing humans up and close with wildlife and is leading to unique feral encounters.

This poses an ever-lurking risk of new strains of viruses and germs to take shelter behind human cells, multiply, damage the working mechanism of the human body and cause mortalities. Animals lose their habitats, and this phenomenon increases the risk of humans coming in close contact with animals which may transmit newer types of viruses.

Dr Aaron Berstein
Dr Aaron Bernstein Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard.

In fact, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses with some causing illness in people, and other infecting certain types of animals. Dr Aaron Bernstein of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard University believes that though we do not know what exactly caused the first coronavirus case, we have known many other diseases caused by closer contact with animals in the past.

According to him, the Ebola outbreak (2014-2016) coincided with the cutting of forests for agriculture. Also, he states that confined feeding operations of animals can pose the risk of swine flu. Further, he feels that COVID pandemic is an opportunity for everyone to prevent climate impact and diseases.

While bats and by some theories pangolins and snakes are being considered as the intermediary host of the SARS-CoV-2 (Coronavirus), it comes as no surprise that another unconquered virus, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), too, as per accepted theories reportedly jumped from either the chimps or monkeys into the humans in 1920s. There is no doubt among scientific fraternity that climate emergency is largely human-induced. Research studies have shown that some of the infections like influenza spread fast through particulate air matter, and this brings the contributory role of air pollution into sharp focus in the spread of infections.

As per a study, the airborne transmission was seen as the causative factor behind the highly pathogenic Avian influenza of 2015 in the United States. The UN Environment Chief, Inger Anderson has voiced his concern in no uncertain words on the latest pandemic threat. According to him, COVID-19 pandemic is a clear ‘warning shot’ for humanity, and to prevent such outbreaks in future “both global heating and the destruction of the natural world for farming, mining and housing have to end, as both drive wildlife into contact with people.”

Doomsday And Last Stand Of Humanity

Predictions of doomsday are rife now more than ever. Apocalyptic literature finds greater resonance. A question comes up at this stage. Did we not see this coming? Are we failing to read ‘warning signals’ of nature? Earthquakes, flash floods, wildfires, heat waves continue to singe and drown the existence of human beings and animals.

Forest fire in Uttarakhand.

East Africa drought of 2011 was seen as the worst in “over 60 years”, and it threatened the existence of 11.5 million people. The European heatwave of August 2003 claimed over 35,000 people and was hottest on record in the northern hemisphere. Indian Ocean earthquake of 2004 caused a Tsunami, and it led to lakhs of casualties. The 2019-20 bushfires of Australia caused unprecedented loss of forest lands.

These climate catastrophes now occur with greater frequency. Doomsday predictions by the scientific community are hard to ignore. In January 2020, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock forward to 100 seconds to midnight. This clock was designed in the year 1947, and the minute hand of the clock is adjusted against midnight hour (denoting Doomsday arrival) every year after taking an assessment of the preparedness level of the world community against two major threats, i.e., nuclear war and climate change. As per the understanding of this community, the world is witnessing governmental dysfunction to contain climate-induced disasters and crises.

Another report brought out in September 2019 by the World Health Organization’s Global Preparedness Monitoring Board had forewarned of the ill-preparedness of the international community to deal with a lethal respiratory virus. It was observed in the report:

A rapidly spreading pandemic due to a lethal respiratory pathogen (whether naturally emergent or accidentally or deliberately released) poses additional preparedness requirements. Donors and multilateral institutions must ensure adequate investment in developing innovative vaccines and therapeutics, surge manufacturing capacity, broad-spectrum antivirals and appropriate non-pharmaceutical interventions.”

It is becoming increasingly clear that we do not pay heed to such warnings.

The link between the rapidly dwindling climate scenario and a resultant rise in infections and pandemics is almost well recognizable now. For instance, the link between malaria and extreme climatic events has long been studied in India. In the early decades of the last century, the river-irrigated Punjab region experienced periodic malaria epidemics. Excessive monsoon rainfall and high humidity were identified as a major influence enhancing mosquito breeding and survival.

In view of the threat to survival posed by the degradation of the environment, one of the prominent British Daily newspapers, ‘The Guardian’ has decided to change the language of ‘climate change’. In fact, to underscore the seriousness of the calamity, it would now employ terms like “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and is to going use the term “global heating” instead of “global warming”.

According to Dr Aaron Bernstein, historically, we have grown as a species in partnership with plant and animal species, but if we drastically change the rules of the game, we should expect effects on our health too. It is time to strike a balance with nature, and the current pandemic scene is by far the loudest warning to the mankind on climate emergency.

Doomsday is closer than we think. As humanity steps into the last stand against COVID-19, there is but only one path to pursue. Reverse climate change process by all means and ensure safe interaction between animals and human beings.

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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 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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