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Living In A Cyclone Prone Zone, I Have Grown Up Bearing Witness To Climate Change

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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.

This post is part of theYKA Climate Action Fellowship, a 10-week integrated bootcamp to work on stories that highlight the impact of climate change on India’s most marginalized. Click here to find out more and apply.

I am a journalist from a small remote town called Chidambaram that lies in the coastal district of Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu. For years now, my town has been witness to the mercurial nature of a changing climate. And even though we aren’t near the shoreline, we are very familiar with extreme weather events. 

flood picture
Floods frequently submerge my town.

Intense cyclones batter my town every year and floods submerge it frequently. All through childhood, I remember my school — like others in the area — would remain closed for weeks each year because our classrooms would get inundated during floods. Sometimes, we were stuck on the terraces of our homes since our entire neighbourhood would get flooded.  

Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu is classified as a very high cyclone-prone zone. Some of the biggest cyclones to batter the district in the last decade include the Thane, Vardhah and Burevi, affecting Cuddalore the most. I have seen firsthand the loss of lives, tree cover and damage to infrastructure and agricultural lands due to the floods. 

As I grew older, the cyclones became more frequent and more intense. In a way, you can say I have grown up bearing witness to climate change. 

The story of my childhood is just one of the many stories of climate change, and if there’s anything that I have learnt witnessing things from such close proximity — when we talk about the issue, we should try and connect all the dots. Seemingly isolated events might look unrelated to the climate change narrative from a microscopic perspective, but if we widen our focus, the issue’s compounded reality becomes shockingly clear. 

Is climate change, though, really the reason for frequent and intense cyclones like the ones we witness in Cuddalore? A recent study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) confirms that global warming has indeed disrupted the global distribution of tropical cyclones in the last four decades. What’s more, the devastation caused by frequent and intense cyclones has lasting impacts on vulnerable communities, which cannot be easily mitigated by temporary relief measures such as cyclone relief funds.

Not just this, if too much rain is problematic, too little rain can be equally catastrophic. In 2017, Cuddalore was declared one of the most drought-hit districts in Tamil Nadu, which resulted in many farmer suicides. Studies say that extreme and unpredictable weather events like these are primary indicators of climate change.  

Since Cuddalore also happens to be a coastal district with a coastal length of nearly 57.5 kms, it is also extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise — one of the cascading impacts of climate change. According to the Tamil Nadu State Action Plan for Climate Change report, in the last 50 years, the state’s shoreline has been affected by coastal erosion and one of the districts most affected is Cuddalore. The report also predicts that large-scale migration may happen due to the increasing frequency and intensity of droughts.

Tamil Nadu Flood
The intensity and frequency of extreme weather events are predicted to continuously worsen by 2100.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also estimates that by 2100, global sea levels will rise by 1.1 meters. This will cause those living near coastlines to migrate. Sea level rise will also likely increase the salinity of water tables, thus making fertile lands unfit for farming and habitation. As I said, when you connect the dots, you understand the real impact of the entire issue. 

According to a paper, Tamil Nadu will see warmer summers with a temperature rise of nearly 3.1 degrees by the end of this century. It also says that there will be a slight increase in rainfall during the northeast monsoon season in Tamil Nadu (October–December). Cuddalore is one of the districts that receive heavy rainfall due to the northeast monsoon. But again in 2019, 24 districts in Tamil Nadu, including Cuddalore, were declared as drought-hit due to the failure of the northeast monsoon. 

This constant flux between floods, cyclones, coastal erosion and droughts is wreaking havoc in many districts of Tamil Nadu, affecting the agricultural economy the most. The intensity and frequency of these extreme weather events are also predicted to continuously worsen by 2100. The net result would be the displacement of communities, uncertain futures and lack of food security. In the very near future, a huge population of Tamil Nadu could likely become climate refugees. 

The situation is urgent. The damage is real. It’s high time we acknowledged the gravity of the situation and acted on it. For a town like mine, it’s really now or never. 

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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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