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34 Dead, 200+ Missing: Uttarakhand’s Glacier Burst Is A Lesson In Environmental Priorities

On February 7, when I saw the videos and pictures of the Uttarakhand tragedy, I had goosebumps. On seeing this, it started running in my mind that is this Part 2 of the Uttarakhand 2013 floods? Thankfully, by the evening it became clear that the catastrophe is not that big. But this is not a happy thing. Because of how we are challenging nature, the way we are making a dent in the natural areas of the Himalayas, this is just a beginning.

So far 34 people have lost their lives and 170 people are missing. Soon after this incident, a social media debate broke out, what was the reason for this? Some are saying that this is a natural phenomenon and some believe that it is the result of human intervention. Scientists are investigating this matter.

Reason For The Tragedy?

Some experts believe that this incident is the result of a glacial outburst. or GLOF. Glacial lakes are formed when glacial ice melts from lakes held together by loose debris. But when this debris is disturbed the water gushes out. But another expert, Professor H C Nainwal, a glaciologist said that glacial outbursts may not be the reason for this incident as there are no big glacial lakes in this regionThe Week also reported that glacial outburst is next to impossible in winter. 

There is another theory by D.P. Dobhal, a glaciologist that a snow avalanche, older avalanche, or landslide may have caused the disaster. The reason is conflicted and the scientists are still investigating the cause but one thing is very clear that it is triggered by climate change and human intervention in fragile Himalayan ecology. Glaciers are melting faster than ever. 

Photo: @TheSatishDua/Twitter

Role of Climate Change

Countries and governments are not following the Paris Climate Agreement. Earth’s temperature is rising and the glaciers are melting. The amount of water in the sea is increasing. A study done in 2019 claimed that Himalayan glaciers have been melting twice as fast since the start of this century due to climate change. The 2019 study, spanning 40 years of satellite observations across India, China, Nepal, and Bhutan, indicates that climate change is eating the Himalayas’ glaciers, the researchers said.

The study, published in the journal Science Advances in June 2019, shows that glaciers have been losing the equivalent of more than a vertical foot and half of the ice each year since 2000, double the amount of melting that took place from 1975 to 2000.

Site of the Tapovan hydel project as rescue works underway, a day after a glacier broke off in Joshimath causing massive flood in Dhauli Ganga River, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, Monday, Feb 8, 2021. (Express photo by Gajendra Yadav)

Twisting The Laws In The Name Of Development

Human intervention in the Himalayan region is destructing its ecology. The act of indiscriminate development works in a sensitive region like the Himalayas is one reason for this catastrophe. The government has used loopholes in the laws for these developments works. They surpassed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Environmental assessment is the assessment of the environmental consequences of a plan, policy, program, or actual projects before the decision to move forward with the proposed action.

Modi Government tried to dilute the EIA in the new Draft EIA 2020. When environmental advocacy organizations launched campaigns against EIA 2020, the government banned the websites of such 3 organizations. Delhi Police issued a notice, said it depicted ‘objectionable contents and unlawful activities or terrorist act, which are dangerous for the peace, tranquillity, and sovereignty of the India’, later they withdrew the notice.

They were called anti-development. Not only them, whenever any environmentalist or an ordinary citizen opposes any construction work that has the potential to damage the environment, they are also called anti-development or anti-progressive. No, we are not anti-progressive. We are pro-progressive, but not in the wrong way, not at the cost of environmental damage. 

This may seem development from the eyes of the government, but this is destruction in reality, and environmentalists are against this so-called “development”.

Violations

Authorities and Governments allegedly violated the orders of Hon. Supreme Court. The government had proposed Char Dham Project — a 900-km, ₹12,000-crore enterprise to connect pilgrimage spots in Uttarakhand. A controversial aspect was the proposed width of the two-line highways envisaged. A petition was filed with National Green Tribunal. The Petition said that the project violated the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006. 

NGT cleared the project. However, the project was stopped by the Supreme Court. The apex court also constituted Ravi Chopra Committee to assess the environmental violations if any. The SC ruled last month that a 5.5-meter width of the road be enforced, on the recommendation of the committee. 

Mountain Gods Were Angry

Environment Journalist Bahar Dutt wrote that in every village she had visited in the Himalayas, locals warned that the ‘mountain gods were angry’. Village after village, women were organizing a second Chipko, this time in favour of Ma Ganga. Their river had been imprisoned and they wanted her to flow unfettered else they predicted many disasters would unfold. Will the government listen to it?

Featured image source: Satya Pradhan/Twitter
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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.

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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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