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Global Warming Will Unearth Never-Before-Seen Viruses

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The coronavirus has taken more than 1.6 million lives worldwide. We hope that the pandemic will not last long with the development of vaccines, but it will not be our last pandemic. We are in the age of pandemics.


Scientists have discovered 28 never-before-seen viruses from the Tibetan plateau of China. The glaciers held the viruses for the past 15,000 years.

For millions of years, viruses have been on earth. We know about only a small fraction of viruses. It is estimated that there are 10 nonillion (10 to the 31 power) viruses that exist on earth. Most of the time, we manage to live in a virus-filled world, but many viruses remain trapped in permafrost, glaciers and oceans for thousands to millions of years, capable of impacting us badly.

India and China are at great Risk

Meltwater from glaciers could carry pathogens along waterways, potentially exposing humans to new viruses. Microorganisms can survive in frozen space for a very long time. It looks even scarier when we see that many of the world’s population lives on the river basins that originates from Himalayan glaciers.

Nearly half of India’s population is dependent on the rivers, having their origin in the Himalayas. These rivers carry sediments, sand and glacial water to the inhabited land, exposing humans to new viruses. China is not an exception. A large portion of China’s population is dependent on the rivers Yangtze, which originates in glacial meltwaters of Tanggula mountains in the Tibet region, and Hwang He, which originates from Bayan Har mountains.

As the planet warms, they could ferry harmful pathogens to inhabited lands.

Thawing permafrost is melting Glaciers

A block of thawing permafrost that fell into the ocean on Alaska’s Arctic Coast. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

Not only are glaciers melting, but permafrost is also thawing at a rapid rate. Permafrost is the layer that is usually bound together by ice, consists of soil, gravel and sand. It remains at or below 0°C. As the planet warms up, the permafrost layer thaws, which means that the ice inside the permafrost melts, leaving water and soil behind. Carbon Dioxide, methane and other gases are trapped in the permafrost layer and as the earth warms up the gases are released into the atmosphere, making it even warmer.

It is estimated that permafrost contains three times the carbon that has been released since the start of industrialisation and twice as much carbon than what’s currently found in the atmosphere. When this layer melts, the temperature rise will melt all the glaciers. All the viruses which have been trapped in the glaciers will start searching for new hosts. 

We have failed to live in harmony with Nature

With the increase in temperature, habitat loss, irregular rainfall, droughts and fewer food sources, animals are approaching new habitats where people live, leading to the spread of diseases.

Most of the time, diseases have entered into people from animals, especially wild animals. Every year, two viruses spillover from animals to humans. We have seen that most of the new viruses have their origin in tropical areas lying on the equator. The edges of tropical forests tend to be hotbeds for virus transmissions.

Global warming has increased the temperature in forests as a result of which new diseases emerge every year. As the planet warms up, all the animals are headed to the poles to get some relief from the heat. It results in unusual contact between animals, which allows pathogens to get into new hosts.

With the increase in temperature, the pattern of disease is changing. Zoonotic diseases, carried by insects like mosquitoes, are moving into new places and expanding their impact. 

We have failed to live in harmony with nature. We have escalated our demands upon the environment. Today, we are losing living species at an unknown rate. Mother Earth is warming and animals are losing their habitat. With the increase in temperature, habitat loss, irregular rainfall, droughts and fewer food sources, animals are approaching new habitats where people live, leading to the spread of diseases. 

How do we prevent future Pandemics?

To prevent future pandemics, we need to manage to cap global warming at under 2°C. We must drastically decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The best way to prevent us from future pandemics is to stop deforestation, which is the root cause of global warming. It could also stop animal migration. The diseases occur by animals that move into new habitats as theirs has been destroyed because of deforestation.

Recently, the Ebola epidemic occurred in Africa. Bats carried the virus because their usual place of living got destroyed to grow palm oil trees.

Carbon dioxide, the predominant heat-trapping greenhouse gas, lingers in the atmosphere for many years. We have already released enough greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and even if we stop emitting them today, we can’t stop global warming for several decades. But it doesn’t mean that we may continue emitting greenhouse gases. It makes the situation even worse and will end up making the earth a fireball. 

Promoting electricity generation from low-carbon energy sources such as solar and wind energy can help decrease harmful pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxides. 

There is no certainty which diseases could occur, in which locations and when. From the coronavirus pandemic, we may learn that anything can happen anytime and we must be prepared for the unexpected. 

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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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