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Why Does Access To Water Fight To Get Space In Political Manifestos?

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There have been some striking images by eminent photographers wherein, they have been successful in portraying the disparity that exists between communities when it comes to accessing water. Images of women holding water cans in one hand and holding their babies, on the other hand, walking miles to fetch water is again a common sight. These women value water. And maybe seeing the hard work done by these women, the privileged also start valuing water. But, what does valuing water mean? Does it have the same meaning for everyone across the globe?

Representational image.

‘Valuing of water’ would include different economic, social, political or environmental interests. The theme for this year’s world water day is valuing water. The term is very open-ended and aims to bring in different narratives and public discourses. This means there will be more stories around the resource bringing the human angle to the forefront.

A few days earlier, the news that water is to be traded on Wall Street as a futures commodity made big headlines. The question of water being treated as an economic good might make access to water difficult for the poor and the marginalised. On the other hand, another group debates that creating pricing slabs for water is crucial to ensure equitable distribution of water because the aspirational needs with respect to usage of water for day-to-day activities are very high among the rich. Hence, treating water as an economic good is necessary to bring about a possible behaviour change.

The double whammy of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an impetus when it comes to valuing water. There has been a huge focus on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) practices more than ever before. And for WASH practices to sustain in order to ward off potential public health crises, availability of water at all times must be a priority. Hence, the commodification of quasi-public good like that of water can always bring in conflicting situations thus threatening water security. Water insecurity can happen at local, national and at transboundary levels. Another reason why it is reiterated that the world is already witnessing ‘water wars’.

In 2018, NASDAQ partnered with Veles water and Westwater Research to launch the Nasdaq Veles California Water Index (NQH20), the first of its water index that benchmarks the spot price of water in the state of California. It must be noted that due to climate change, California has witnessed longer periods of dry conditions with lesser wet conditions. This automatically puts pressure on the pricing of water would also bring forth questions like how much does an acre-foot of water currently cost? How tradable water is with respect to other precious metals like gold, copper, Brent crude, etc. Therefore, there needs to be a greater focus on understanding water consumption patterns for policy formulation.

Representational image.

Water is central to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with SDG6 and SDG14 being explicitly water-specific. SDG6 is ‘clean water and sanitation’ and SDG14 is ‘Life below water’.

To realise the true essence of the ‘value of water’, the governance and management of water have to be strengthened. There has to be more emphasis on the bottom-up approach involving more people in the decision-making process. Water rights are shaped around social capital and legal pluralism.

So far, the country has done a good job under the Jal Jeevan mission under the Ministry of Jal Shakti. Since, the launch of the mission, there has been an increase of close to 20.32% of households getting a tap water connection in the rural areas with Goa and Telangana being the only two states having a 100% tap water supply.

It is interesting to note that the states of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal that will go for polls in the coming days have not delivered well when it comes to the Jal Jeevan Mission. Out of these states, Assam is the worst performer wherein 91.78% of the households are yet to get a tap water connection. If water is to be truly valued, it has to fight to get a space in political manifestos, after all, access to water is a basic human right.

India needs to strengthen its inland water transport system. Not only is it one of the cheapest means of transportation but it also paves way for reducing carbon emissions. The Indo-Bangladesh relation with respect to the Teesta River has not been a good one. In the recently concluded water resources secretary-level meeting, both the countries met under the framework of the Joint Rivers Commission to decide on expanding cooperation in water resources. It must be noted that 54 rivers are shared between India and Bangladesh.

In the South Asian context, the geography of the countries has huge geopolitical significance wherein the need for better water management always comes into the picture. Treaties like the Indus Water treaty, the Mahakali treaty, the Ganga treaty, the Teesta water-sharing deal, etc make headlines frequently. This value of water has made it a state subject in the Indian context. Often times, it is found that in our pursuit of cooperative federalism, water sharing between upper and lower riparian states have been an uncomfortable one. As of today, nine tribunals have been established in the country to resolve inter-state water disputes. It is understood with respect to Article 262 of the Indian Constitution read along with the Inter-state River Water Dispute Act, 1956.

Therefore, it is for this value of water that there needs to be a greater understanding of hydro-diplomacy for enhanced inter-state and transboundary water governance which can act as a means for water security, conflict management and peacebuilding.

Representational image.

In all the urban areas, there are concepts and terminologies that are perhaps always seen yet hardly realised. While it has become exceedingly common for the water bodies of many Indian cities to have lost their ecological significance, yet not many of us are aware that rapid and unplanned urbanisation gives rise to ‘urban stream syndrome’. Symptoms of urban stream syndrome include a flashy hydrograph (flash floods, quick pulses of water in creeks), high concentrations of nutrients and contaminants, altered channel morphology and stability, reduced biotic richness, with increased dominance of invasive tolerant species. Henceforth, once again the question of ‘valuing water’ comes into the picture.

Last but not the least, the challenge of managing non-revenue water has put a huge burden on Asian cities at large. Non-revenue water (NRW) means the amount of water lost in the distribution networks. In the developing world, where regions are water-scarce or already face issues with water supply, NRW can further lead to inequitable access to water. In other words, it may be defined as the difference between the amount of water put into the distribution system and the amount of water billed to consumers- averages 35% in the region’s cities and can reach much higher levels.

Consequently, the expansion of water networks without addressing water losses will aggravate water insecurity, scarcity, waste and inefficiency. Accordingly, the International Water Association has defined water loss as Water loss= ‘real’ losses + ‘apparent’ losses.

The expression ‘real losses’ has replaced the expression ‘physical losses’. ‘Apparent losses’ have replaced ‘non-physical losses’ and ‘management’ losses.

With the pandemic changing the lives of people drastically, valuing water on all fronts and aspects is needed more than ever before in a changing climate.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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, 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.

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