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Ensuring SDG 7 for >1.35 billion, one subsidy swap at a time

greyscale photography of lamp on floor

Blast from the past

<5 mins read. Approx. 460 words

The big news:

India has almost achieved its historic goal of connecting every household to the electricity grid. The next challenge is to provide 24×7 Power for All. According to a new independent study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), switching subsidies from kerosene to off-grid solar products would improve electricity access for households still reliant on kerosene.

Personal context:

I grew up in a small town of northern India, not far from the capital city of Delhi, in early 90s. Looking back, it wasn’t unusual for the electricity to be cut-off for over 24 hours at a time. During peak summer months of April-August, this could even meant no power for more than 36 hours at times.  I remember distinctly taking my high school examinations (aka CBSE board examinations in India) while studying in the light of a kerosene lamp and/or hurricane lantern. Not only were these sources of light very harmful in terms of kerosene fumes inhalation by us kids, poor quality light for our eyesight, but also there was a constant threat of the glass chimney breaking and setting our belongings to fire and injuring us.

Present times:

Fast forward to present times, despite the success of SAUBHAGYA (the Indian Government’s ambitious plan from 2017 to connect every household to electricity), millions of households continue to use kerosene lamps during outages or because they cannot afford electricity. The report by TERI and IISD shows support for off-grid solar could be made directly to households, through manufacturers or as subsidized credit through financial institutions.

This is where Engineering for Change’s solution library’s energy products come in. Products such as biolite solar home 620 and wow solar 100, among others can be employed at household levels to provide clean and reliable sources for alternate light and energy in the face of unpredictable power supply in places, such as rural India.

An earlier joint publication by IISD and TERI in July 2018 explored the business case for a subsidy swap. The 2019 study goes further by providing a six-step implementation plan for governments. The first three steps provide options on

The next steps are presented as three separate pathways depending on whether the government chooses to subsidize consumers, manufactures or financial products in the report.

In conclusion:

With the developed countries, like the US and UK,  plowing their way through fossil fuel free energy for the first time in history,  policy efforts like the above by the governments, combined with innovative solutions and financial mechanism shall go a long way in assisting India’s transition to clean and reliable power for all and achieving SDG7, ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

Disclaimer: This article first appeared under the heading India’s Universal Power Supply May Be Only a Subsidy Policy Away on Engineering for Change’s website and has been edited slightly for the ease of this blog’s readers. To read the original article please click on the link above.

Solutions to aid circular economy and #leavenoonebehind

Kali Nadi, Meerut U.P, India

< 4 mins read. Approx. 400 words
I lived in the western Indian state of Rajasthan for most of 2006-07. To say that it quickly became one of my most favorite places in the world would be an understatement. I worked on one of the most ambitious urban renewal programs of Government of India, known as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM). My work focused on the sub-mission, providing Basic Services to Urban Poor (BSUP), with an emphasis on water and wastewater infrastructure projects. Therefore, it really saddened me to learn that the Rajasthan State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) is demanding information from the state government about reports of food adulteration. State media has reported a variety of unsafe food practices, including the use of sewage water to clean vegetables.
The context:
The United Nations recently released an extensive report on the state of the global environment warning that poor environmental regulations could lead to millions of premature deaths in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa by 2050. The report notes that freshwater pollution could lead to a rise in anti-microbial resistance and associated deaths. The report urges the public, businesses, and political leaders to salvage the environment by pursuing sustainable development.
A novel approach:
At the Limbe Market in Malawi, Africa, more than a ton of organic waste is generated each day. The city council transports the waste from market to a composting facility where it is turned into rich, organic compost. Economic analysis of the benefits of composting have also been conducted. It also shows that financial and environmental benefits are higher than relying on landfill. Composting helps prevent the harmful agriculture run-off in to the surface water bodies and groundwater aquifers. An open windrow composting can also be a low-cost option for local council to manage their organic waste in developing countries. Community perceptions  remain the main barrier to adopting human waste for composting and later use as fertilizers, which could be also be a viable option.While news from Rajasthan may sound discouraging at first glance, if done right along with the support structure, connecting food waste and sanitation services can help farmers, environment and consumers. It can also contribute towards a circular economy. Regenerative agriculture could also save water, soil and the climate.

March 22 is World Water Day with #leavenoonebehind as the global call for action. Integrated approaches such as above could contribute in the longer run to help achieve the SDGs by linking foodwater, and sanitation systems.

Disclaimer: This article originally appeared on Engineering for Change under the title ‘The Circular Economy Can Solve Food and Water Problems in Rajasthan, Malawi and the World’, and has been slightly edited.

I’national Day of Forest 2019: ‘Forests and Education.’


Forests in fall colors ©Rohith Roy

Approx. 3 mins read. ≈325 words

Happy Holi to all celebrating today! Its also the first day of the spring aka the vernal equinox and Parsi New Year aka newruz, being celebrated across the world.

The context:

It is also international day of forests 2019 today, with the global theme of ‘Forests and Education’. It seeks to raise awareness on how sustainably managed forests provide a wide array of contributions. Take care of the forests and you shall take care of the watersheds, water cycle (hydrologic cycle), freshwater, groundwater aquifers, air around us and so on. In Africa there is a term for it ‘Ubuntu’, which translates to I am because you are.

The UN General Assembly proclaimed 21 March the International Day of Forests in 2012. I had the fortune of attending the ceremony on that ominous day, while working for UNICEF HQs in NYC. In fact, one of the very first posts on this blog was a report on that day. I remember distinctly, “The Closing Ceremony of the International Year of Forest is a new beginning” quoted Ms. Jan McAlpine, Director, United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) on that day.

In conclusion:

From Japan to India to EU and all the way to Latin America, the importance of conserving and rejuvenating the forests by bringing them back to life has been observed to contribute towards not only the socio-economic but also the mental and general health and well being of all.

Protecting the forests is not only just an environmental issue but also gender, social, economic and political one. We know for a fact that protecting and restoring forests can increase water security, bolster rural economies, provide urban green spaces or lungs as they are called in the context of the cities, mitigate climate change by alleviating the formation of urban heat islands among others. This shall ultimately provide an opportunity to highlight specific forest contributions to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The post I’national Day of Forest 2019: ‘Forests and Education.’ first appeared on

Who decides the roles in WASH management?

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<5 mins read. Approx. 505 words

“Kailasho, O Kailasho. Are you there yet? Why didn’t you come in yesterday?” These were the voices of my waking up as child in our family’s home in the town of Meerut, in western Uttar Pradesh state of India. My locality didn’t look much different from the lane in the picture above and this could might as well be a scene from one of those mornings. So who was this Kailasho?

I come from the highest caste of Brahmins in India. India has always been a caste-based society, historically divided into Brahmins (the priests), Kshatriyas (the warriors), Vaishyes (the traders) and Shoodraas (the untouchables). Growing up I saw Kailasho who was our sweeper, and her family come in every morning to clean our household latrines. It was considered a ‘dirty’ chore for my family members. These latrines were located outside our main house, so that Kailasho and her family didn’t have to enter or see our main living space.

I was adopted and brought up by a grandparent, who abhorred this practice. He cleaned his own latrine everyday, and taught me to do the same. He explained to me how ridiculous the idea of caste system was, and how our abolishing this practice, as an entire society, was long overdue. This led me to think long and hard about the type of jobs that people were ‘supposed’ to do based on their castes in India, and how I could contribute towards making a difference and bring about change, via my developmental work.

Sadly, from India all the way to Kenya, the practice of manual scavenging, as the dirty clean-up work is called, is still fairly common. Despite the practice being banned since 1993 in India, the news of sewer deaths are not rare. In addition to loss of human life, the untreated sewage poses myriad threats to drinking water quality, human health and the environment. In Kenya, more than half of the urban population lives in informal settlements like Kibera, which houses about 250,000 people. The waste they generate flows untreated into the Nairobi river, which ultimately finds its way into the Indian Ocean. This is a similar case of most Indian rivers, Ganga/Ganges, Yamuna, Hindon, Kali and others, to name a few.

Globally, almost 80 percent of the world’s wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without proper treatment. This means that almost a quarter of people drink water contaminated with human waste, according to United Nations Water. That incubates deadly diseases, including cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.

March 14 was the International Day of Action for Rivers and March 22 is World Water Day with ‘Leave No one Behind’ as the slogan for 2019. Only by addressing these challenges, providing solutions and gainful employment to the service providers, we can work towards achieving the SDG 6-Clean Water and Sanitation for All and #leavenoonebehind.

Disclaimer: This article originally appeared on Engineering of Change‘s website, under the title ‘There’s a Better Way to Manage Human Waste’ , and has been edited for the ease of reading for all.

Making every drop count: Celebrating the journeys of all women

Girls collecting water for their HH

Sisters fetching water for their families ©NEER Foundation

<8 mins read. Approx. 825 words.

The context:

I was born in India to a family that had access to clean toilets and running water. For the first 23 years of my life, I never gave the flipside of growing up a thought. I never imagined that there might be another girl just like me, who never had access to safe potable water or sanitation, within a few miles of my family’s home and school.

It was only when I came face to face with the drudgery of women and girl child during my work with a grassroots non-profit, it dawned on me that how ‘privileged’ my upbringing had been. There were bumps along the way for #metoo, in terms of taboos around mensuration and bodily developments, but those were incomparable to what I saw first hand, working with the women in urban slums and rural parts of National Capital Region (NCR), Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

I observed that girls were spending on an average 4 hours a day fetching water for their households and helping their mothers. They also got harassed, experienced gender based violence, and lived in the constant fear of being attacked by stray and wild dogs during these trips. They were responsible to take care of their siblings and help with the chores. Which meant, no time for school or learning. Boys were prioritized over girls, when it came time for getting enrolled in schools because of deep-seated stereotypes. The mothers in turn were also spending their entire day taking care of the households, gathering firewood, and doing other chores, which prevented them from undertaking any productive work or contributing towards generating any income.

When these girls reached puberty and experienced their first period, they were told only that they were to stay away from the boys, use old dirty rags to stop the blood flow from soiling their clothes, not go out or perform any religious activities, and not to touch the home-made pickles and spices, as the girls were ‘dirty’ and their touch might spoil those items. In some extreme cases, they were made to stay in shacks or barns, with no access to water to wash themselves or even take a bath. No discussion however about sexual/bodily development and changes, clean hygiene practices, birth control, unsafe sexual practices and so on. These were unfortunately very similar taboos that I experienced growing up too, despite coming from a totally different (read mostly urban) family background and attending an all English school.

The journey so far:


Women practicing pisciculture ©NEER Foundation

In my over a decade’s work in India, I saw what the impact of education, grassroots community based organizations, policy-makers will, right financial mechanisms and ultimately the efforts and will of women and girls themselves can do.

I was the first woman in my family to graduate with a degree in environmental sciences and public health in the early 2000s (it was unheard of), the first one who chose to work in the global development sector, the first one to go out of town/state to receive a higher education and ultimately work. I was also the first woman to join an all male team at the only grassroots nonprofit working towards the cause of WASH in my hometown. Then I met a lot of similar women, who went first in their families, communities and organizations to make things better for not only themselves but also for other women and girls. They are the trailblazers for breaking the stereotypes by overcoming the barriers and challenges in their own lives to bring about development and change in their lives and others.

International Women’s Day 2019:

March marks two significant internationally celebrated days for those of us working in the global development sector. Today, March 08, we celebrate International Women’s Day #IWD, and on March 21st the World Water Day #WWD with the slogan #leavenoonebehind.

In conclusion:

Women participating in HHsurverys

Women participating in HH surveys ©NEER Foundation

Its no secret that WASH programs, financing these efforts, and providing the solutions cannot solve the issues that women and girls face over a period of their lifetimes. However, by providing the basic services to WASH, including potable water supply and clean toilets, can provide the much needed dignity and a step in the right direction. This shall enable the girls to get an education and women to be able to contribute towards their household’s income. In terms of long term solutions, inviting and respecting the opinions, by making the voices of girls and women heard and incorporated in policy making, shall go a long way in alleviating their drudgery and achieving the SDGs for all.

This post Making every drop count: Celebrating the journeys of all women first appeared on


The article has been inspired, in part, by a panel discussion with Sara Ahrari convened by WaterAid Canada, UNICEF and RESULTS Canada during International Development Week 2019 in Ottawa, as mentioned in RWSN’s latest blog post.













India’s link to Oscars 2019 celebrates women and highlights SDGs

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©Engineering for Change (E4C)

< 3 mins read (approx. 250 words)

The context:

‘Period. End of sentence’ has won the best documentary short Oscar for 2019. It is set in the town of Hapur (approx. 70 kms or 44 miles) near New Delhi in India.

Winning an Oscar is a big feat for an Indian woman film-maker, however taking charge and changing their destiny is a much bigger feat for the women featured in this documentary.

Connection to the SDGs:

The film highlights the importance of achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG3) — good health and well-being for all, especially menstrual hygiene for the women. It also subtly points to SDG6 Clean Water and Sanitation for All and SDG7 Ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. The women mention in the film that they have a very unreliable source for electricity, and this prevents them from achieving their full potential at multiple levels.

In conclusion:

With March being celebrated as ‘Women History Month‘, ‘International Day of Women’ falling on March 08, ‘World Water Day‘ on March 22 with the slogan ‘Water for All, Leave No one Behind’ and Earth Hour on March 20, this is a good time to celebrate and remember the contributions of women from all walks of life, all over the world, and what they are capable of achieving when given the right set of tools and avenues.

This article originally appeared on Engineering for Change, under the headline “I Experienced the Same Taboos as the Women in the Documentary ‘Period. End of Sentence’”.

UNESCO’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2019



<6 mins read. Approx. 515 words

One might be surprised to see the above info-graph with the heading of today’s blog post. This above info-graph and the related blog post has been one of the most significant of all the posts that I have shared on this blog in the past 8 years, beginning from the world’s costliest water. Less than 30% of research and development jobs worldwide are represented by women and girls, despite the strides made by women in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM). In the US, women represent only 15 percent of the transportation work force, according to a new study from the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University. Jodi Godfrey and Robert Bertini, the authors of the study, entitled Attracting and Retaining Women in the Transportation Industry, cited a lack of female role models and mentors as a significant deterrent to women joining the transportation industry. Personal safety, gender balance/parity and lack of diversity are other contributing factors. The info-graph above is a major contributor to this statistic.

UNESCO’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science:

Today, February 11, is being celebrated as UNESCO’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science worldwide. It was adopted in 2015 by the UN General Assembly, and the celebrations are led by UNESCO and UN-Women worldwide.

“One of the main tools for tackling gender inequality in the sciences requires a change in attitude and challenging stereotypes” says Dr. Neha Midha, National Program Officer, Natural Sciences, UNESCO New Delhi, in her video.

Imagine if the girls and women in the above info-graph were made to believe and think like scientist from an early age, instead of doing the grueling work of fetching water for their families each and everyday. 25-30% of women and girls spend their days fetching up to 26 gallons (100 liters) of water on an average, especially in the developing country. These productive hours are taken away from these women, when they could be contributing to their communities, girls could be in schools becoming tomorrow’s scientists, doctors, physicists, problem solvers and policy makers, helping achieve the SDG4 under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Personal significance:

I was raised by an adoptee parent, who was an arts major himself, in a family where majority of previous generations were humanities major. I cannot thank my mother (a humanities major and lifelong educator) enough to nudge me into following my own career path of pursuing science as a major in high school and so on. This made me even more curious, and enabled me to build a career for helping solve the world’s most pressing challenges in the global development space.


My mother promoting local handicrafts made by her students ©PallaviBharadwaj

In conclusion:

It has been estimated by experts that each dollar spent in educating girls and women, returns up to $5 on investment. Economic benefits aside, one cannot ignore the ideas, skills and knowledge that a diverse group consisting of an equal representation by the girls and women bring to any team. The elimination of bias, change in attitude, presentation of equally opportunities by parents, families, teachers, peers, employers and society as a whole, are needed for long term changes. Besides the political turmoil that has delivered a huge blow to UNESCO this year, other challenges need to be addressed and remedied globally. Now a mother myself, I am making sure that I raise a kid, whose mind is free of any biases and stereotypes against all women and girls.

This post UNESCO’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2019 first appeared on


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