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Russia’s Oil Spill In The Arctic Circle: An Environmental Emergency?

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Russia has declared a state of emergency due to a gigantic oil spill in the Arctic region of Northern Siberia. The oil spill is a major cause of worry and concern due to the potentially devastating impact it may have on the Arctic environment.

The oil spill that occurred from a plant owned the Russian metals mining giant Norilsk Nickel in late May 2020, has caused more than 20,000 tons of fuel to exude into a neighboring Ambarnaya river turning its surface crimson red. The oil spill was caused due to the collapse of an aging fuel tank at a power plant due to “thawing permafrost” as exclaimed by Norilsk Nickel in a statement.

The thermoelectric power plant was constructed on permafrost that gradually deteriorated as years passed by due to climate change. This caused the fuel tank’s pillars to sink in the surface and the subsequent collapse of the tank.

 

The Russian authorities, however, aren’t buying this and an Investigative Committee, charged with the task of probing the mishap, blames the laxity of the maintenance department of Norilsk Nickel, pointing out that the company didn’t carry out required repairs on the tank in 2018 during the maintenance period, and instead, continued to use it without paying any heed to the safety regulations.

A representative of the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) also spurned at Norilsk Nickel’s claims about the thawing permafrost and said, “It is an attempt to write off Nornickel’s failure in risk management and ecological safety on the fashionable topic of climate change. The main factor is mismanagement.”

The oil leak has reached over seven miles from the site of the accident, which has lead to environmentalists referring to it as the second-largest oil spill in Russian history. Many have also compared it to the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident of the coast of Alaska. The environmental effects of the oil spill are a serious cause of concern and have made the Russian government anxious, as the Ambarnaya river is part of a network that flows into the environmentally-sensitive Arctic ocean.

“The incident has led to catastrophic consequences and we will be seeing the repercussions for years to come. We are talking about dead fish, polluted plumage of birds, and poisoned animals,” said Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of Arctic projects for WWF Russia. Experts have speculated that the leak can have a noxious impact on the local ecological system. The most toxic components of the leaked fuel consist of light aromatics that in no way can be collected and extracted out, and will dissolve in the water.

Vladimir Putin chairs a video conference meeting on dealing with the fuel spill in the Krasnoyarsk region. Image Credits:  Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin vehemently retorted to the disaster and publicly admonished Vladimir Potanin, billionaire owner of the mining giant, and also ordered the tightening of regulations along with a probe into the incident. Criminal proceedings have been launched and the head of the power plant has also been detained by authorities.

The President has also declared a state of emergency in the region so as to bring in extra forces and federal resources to tide over the crisis. Activist group Greenpeace has estimated that the damage caused to the Arctic waterways can cost at least six billion rubles (more than $76 million), excluding the atmospheric damage caused by the accident.

“The installed buoys will only help collect a small part of the pollution, leading us to say that nearly all the diesel fuel will remain in the environment,” said the activist group in a statement.

Although Russian authorities and other critics have blamed the negligence of the company’s maintenance crew for the accident and pointed out that the company hadn’t given much attention to its aging infrastructure, it is also important to acknowledge the fact that the company indeed is situated in the heart of the region, which is the most burdened by the effects of climate change and global warming and hence, it too would’ve had a role to play in this disaster.

In fact, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) cautioned last year that climate change and the resultant global warming could cost the world economy more than $1 trillion over the next five years through weakening infrastructure, environmental damage like wildfires and storms, decreased crop yields and health problems.

Hence, it is high time that all major countries and leaders come together to collaborate and forge out a way to deal with climate change and global warming before it is too late.

Featured image credit: Getty Images

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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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