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Do You Know How Climate Change Is Affecting Our Mountains And Oceans?

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To better understand the looming water crisis and its relationship with climate change, the Centre for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD) IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, in collaboration with Tarun Bharat SanghIndia Water Portal, Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan, and UN-Water hosted a #webpolicytalk on “Water and Climate Change: Challenges for India” as part of its series on #WaterandClimate.

Dr. Indira Khurana Senior Expert, Water Sector began the session by talking about the importance of water in our lives. Water is essential for everyone’s lives and livelihoods. It is also a contributor to socio-economic growth and the foundation of peace. Dr. Khurana outlined the purpose of the talk series as a place to deliberate on our understanding of water- its accessibility, quality, adequacy, and sustainability of water resources.

Water was listed as the top risk faced by the world by the World Economic Forum. WEF also identified environmental degradation as the number one long-term risk faced by the world in 2021. The shift towards a green economy cannot be delayed. Understanding this interlinked challenge of water and climate change is essential and can help inform policy.

Impact Of Rising Sea Levels

Dr. Anjal Prakash Research Director and Adjunct Associate Professor, Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad in his presentation explained the key outcomes of the IPCC Special Report on oceans and the cryosphere and discussed the implications for India and its water resources.

The IPCC Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) 2019 found that the rise in sea level in the present was twice as fast as that in the 20th century. Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets are losing mass leading to this rise in sea level. Extreme sea-level events and intense storms will become more common and low-lying areas will be exposed to risks of land loss and flooding annually by 2050.

Indian Ocean
Representational Image. Marine life in our oceans face severe threat from climate change.

The ocean has absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system, which will rise to 2 to 4 times by the end of the century, with global warming limited to 2 degrees Celsius. Ocean warming reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients to marine life and increasing occurrences of marine heatwaves are further threatening marine life. The global catch potential of fish has fallen, creating problems for biodiversity as well as communities that primarily depend on seafood for survival.

These effects will be exacerbated by pollution. Fisheries management and marine protected areas could be potential opportunities for adaption to such conditions.

The report emphasizes the urgency of ‘prioritizing timely, ambitious and coordinated action to address widespread and inducing changes in the ocean and cryosphere’ and seeks to empower people to deal with transitional changes. Education and climate literacy have been identified as important ways to reach out.

Climate Change In The Himalayan Region

Dr. Prakash stressed the importance of the Himalayan region as a source of water in South Asia. It has been dubbed as the Third pole for storing the largest reserve of ice after the North and South poles. Its significance cannot be understated as it serves water to the hundreds of millions of people across the continent.

The effect of global warming on Himalayan glaciers will be magnified and under the extreme emission scenario, around 64% of glaciers may be lost by 2100. This has consequences for the economy of the area as well hampering the natural resource support that it provides. The rise in sea level is at 3.6mm per year and accelerating which has severe implications for India which has the 7th longest coastline in Asia. The coastal cities of Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, etc. face the highest risk.

To face these challenges, the following actions need to be adopted-

  • Climate proofing development programs
  • Making infrastructure climate resistant
  • Constructing better early warning systems, sustained and long-term monitoring, sharing of data, information, and knowledge, and improved context-specific forecasts
  • Institutional innovation in tackling disasters and resilient livelihood practices
  • Mitigate and adapt
  • Management of Floods

Dr. Khurana asked Dr. Prakash to expand upon the threats posed by the melting glaciers. Dr. Prakash explained that changes in the mass of glaciers do not just create a sea-level rise but also affect the entire water system of the region. The glaciers serve as climate regulators too and their melting affects the monsoon patterns across the country which usually culminates in untimely floods. The flash floods seen in Bihar and Assam were evidence of this fact and the rising unpredictability of these floods is a major cause for concern. The melting of glaciers also affects the baseflow of rivers which disrupts the water supply for people living downstream.

Melting glaciers Himalayas
The Himalayas is an important source of water that is getting depleted by climate change.

Dr. Khurana remarked on the importance of traditional knowledge in handling the flow and intensity of water from rivers. A high flow of water, if conserved properly, could help recharge the groundwater of a region. She expressed the need to get local people involved in the conversation. Dr. Prakash mentioned his fieldwork in Bihar and the ancient systems of water management which connected various ponds or huls in ways that would divert and utilize the excess flow of water. These systems were poorly understood by both the British pre-independence and by the Indian government post-independence leading to their systematic destruction.

Dr. Khurana spoke about the pressure on land leading to catchment areas being encroached. Ponds were being used as dumping areas and then taken over by real estate. It is essential to see that catchment areas are reclaimed and protected. Dr. Prakash agreed by saying that the drainage systems of Indian cities are old and it is disappointing that the haphazard nature of urbanization has not led to even one fully sanitized city. Urban planning created to adapt to the incremental challenges is of the utmost importance.

Question And Answer

In response to a question on the rising sea levels and coastal areas, he discussed the rising levels of arsenic and salinity in coastal areas creating problems for agriculture. He insisted on the need for young people to work towards protecting the environment and suggested that South-Asian political differences hurt the Himalayan region and had to be put aside. The lack of cooperation could endanger a shared future.

Dr. Prakash lauded the Jal Jeevan Mission for its ambitiousness and ability to identify and isolate the important need to access clean water across the country. He recommended that the mapping of districts in the project should be based on climate risk. The sustainability of water sources had to be ensured.

He replied to a question on the problem of water management in urban areas by referring to his study of water in Hyderabad where they found that half of the city was not served by tanks. This created a water mafia that drained peri-urban areas of water to supply water to big companies in the city. This has worrying consequences for the urban poor and cannot be ignored.  He reiterated the need for the youth to be involved in environmental campaigns to safeguard our future.

Acknowledgment: Sonali Pan is a Research Intern at IMPRI.

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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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        Find out more about the campaign here.

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        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.”

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        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.

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        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
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        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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