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“Pollution Holiday”: An essay on a new kind of (sad) school holiday in Delhi

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Pollution Holiday: By one of the students in a public school in Meerut, India

For the non-native speakers, here is the translation of a very sad essay. My mother teaches this kid, and she shared it with me this morning. It made me very upset that this is what our future generation thinks pollution is, a holiday.

Pollution Holiday:

From now on, ‘Pollution’ is Delhi’s main festival. It always begins after Diwali. We get more holidays during Pollution, than during Diwali. During Diwali we get only 4 holidays but during pollution we get more than eight days as holidays. People wear different types of face masks during this holiday. We consume black pepper, honey and ginger to stay healthy during this holiday at home. The kids like this festival more than Diwali now.

 

 

 

 

MNREGA was created to help the Indian farmers. What happened then?

man sitting on street near tree

Photo by Sankalpa Joshi on Pexels.com

<6 mins read, approx. 560 words.

More than 1.8 million water-related projects were abandoned or left incomplete in 2018-19 in India.

The context:

About MGNREGA

Many districts and states in India faced a second consecutive drought, while others dealt with record rainfall. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) could have helped mitigate the impacts of drought, by providing access to employment to folks, who are most affected by it. However, evidence shows that the scheme’s performance has not been very promising. MGNREGA’s performance was highly unsatisfactory in the drought-stricken districts in 2018-19. According to an analysis by Down to Earth India, more than 1.8 million water-related projects were abandoned or left incomplete in 2018-19. The government spent close to INR 16,615 crore (2,402,087,539.45 USD) on these projects. This was close to a quarter of the total MGNREGA expense on structures that are of no use to anyone.

A state of contradictions

Odisha, one of India’s poorest states, is also the one bearing most brunt during these natural disasters. In addition to getting battered by the effect of the Cyclone Fani in 2019, it had also witnessed one of the driest spells in 2018. The rainfall predicted in the Kharkhara village in Odisha has decreased 3 folds in the past three years, making it extremely drought hit. In 2017, Balangir district in Odisha recorded just 840mm of rain. This led to the waves of climate refugees or migrants seeking refuge in far off states such as Karnataka in southern India and others. They mostly work as bonded labor for meager payments in brick kilns, construction projects and others. Under MGNREGA, one member of each rural household is eligible for availing employment for 100 days a year. At an individual level, while 91 million people demanded jobs, only 77 million could be provided. A bigger concern, than employment demand not being met, was the large-scale suspension of  agriculture- and water-related projects that could have helped farmers during the time of drought.

MGNREGA today

As reported by Down to Earth, for 33 states and union territories, the MGNREGA wage rate is less than the corresponding minimum wage for agriculture, condemning workers to another year of bonded labor. This ratio is in the range of 60%–70% for a number of poor states such as Telangana and Odisha. Activists groups, such as the the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, demand an increase in the MGNREGA wage rate to 600 INR ($8.00 USD) a day. This follows the Seventh Pay Commission recommendation of 18,000 INR (260.24 USD) as the minimum monthly salary.

In conclusion:

India has a long way to go towards solving its domestic water crisis from Delhi to Karnataka. The able bodied and younger villagers migrate to urban areas leaving behind an aging, sick and elderly population. This is only one of the many adverse consequences for the rural areas. A combination of steps such as smart water catchment management ,forming Water Users Associations, exchanging knowledge with other countries, encouraging different sources of earning a living via natural resources management, to the very traditional ones, such as granting aids to the farmers in addition to equitable distribution of water to various sectors, implementing community based adaptation and others shall help keep the population in the villages, and provide jobs to more than half a million people in the state of Odisha and many more across the country.

This post ‘MNREGA was created to help the Indian farmers. What happened then?‘ first appeared on theflipsideofdevelopment.wordpress.com

A recurring annual post (read nightmare)

Del pollution Nov.2016

Air pollution in Delhi circa Nov. 2016 ©RohithRoy

<5 mins read. Approx. 430 words

The context:

New Delhi air crisis reached it’s peak severity this week. In the same week, the U.S. formally notified the United Nations that it would be the only country among 196 signatories to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. In the 2016 agreement, almost every country in the world committed to establishing its own emissions target known as the Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Monday that the commitment to sustainable energy posed an “economic burden.” In another climate change related news, Chilean Government has cancelled the hosting of APEC Trade Summit and COP25 this year, amidst civil unrest.

Personal background:

2016 was my last year to visit India, and my most beloved city of Delhi, during Diwali with my family (see the above pic). Stubble burning by farmers in north Indian states of Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab and U.P. combined with pollution from firecrackers of Diwali, formed such a toxic soup that my family almost chocked to death. We have vowed never to visit Delhi during the month of Diwali. Visibility was zero and the entire city came to a grinding halt. When discussed with the locals in Delhi, the response was that they were used to this air pollution and it didn’t bother them any longer. My uncle, who has recently had double heart attack, said that he keeps his apartment’s windows close to keep the pollution out!

As for the Indian government, they have tried to use anti smog water cannon to combat the toxic air pollution in the nation’s capital, Delhi, in the past. They have also implemented something called odd and even number of driving days for the car owners based on their license number plates. Schools and offices have been closed this year as the air quality is the worst that it has been in the past 8 years. 5 million residents have been handed out face masks. Specialists have warned that inhaling Delhi’s toxic air is equivalent to smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day. As in every episode of an environmental threat, the poorest are the worst hit in this case as well.

In conclusion:

The rich and affluent in Delhi (and all the other major cities around the world for that matter) can pay for clean water, security around their houses and food stability/security. However, this is the type of scenarios that status quo presents in the “so called” emerging economies and developed countries around the world. Ultimately, the world’s wealthiest have to rely for these securities on the billions of others, who have to go outside everyday to earn a living.

This post A recurring annual post (read nightmare) first appeared on theflipsideofdevelopment.wordpress.com

Local solutions for global challenges: how can we help?

person sitting in front of brown and black house

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com

>6 mins read. Approx. 640 words

The context:

October is an important month of the year for many reasons. Some of them are:

  • Fall sets in most of north-east US, and we transition into cooler temperatures
  • It’s the beginning of the harvest and festival season everywhere (Halloween in the US, Day of the dead in Mexico, Dussehra and Diwali in India and so on)
  • Numerous international days of significance, especially in the week of October 14 :
  1. Global Handwashing Day (2019 theme: Clean Hands for All)
  2. International Day of rural women (2019 Theme: Rural Women and Girls Building Climate Resilience)
  3. World Food Day (2019 Theme: Healthy Diets for a Zero Hunger World)

Personal significance:

October is also a time to begin reflecting on your choices, decision, accomplishments and what needs to be done for the remainder of the year for some. Personally, its a time for me to reflect and analyze what I have been able to do to contribute towards alleviating the world’s biggest challenges. Here is my list this year:

1. One of the most significant achievements, professionally, in 2019 for me is to be selected as one of the first three women board members of a very driven nonprofit organization, Gravity Water, for 2019-20. Gravity Water is a fairly young U.S. nonprofit organization working to help children in schools access safe drinking water. Bali, Indonesia is one of their newest provinces of operation. Just a US$8 donation to Gravity Water will give drinking water to one child. One of my fellow board members is raising funds on the occasion of his birthday to bring water to kids in Bali, Indonesia. They are also hiring for a National Director’s role in Indonesia. Please contact me directly or write to dannyatgravitywaterdotorg for JD and how to apply.

2. Personally, my family and I have decided to become vegetarian going forward. I have been a life long vegetarian, and ate fish or seafood very sparingly. However, because of the recent evidence on how our daily choices and contributions can help combat climate change has driven my family to make their choice as well.

In conclusion:

People often dismiss ideas of how our daily choices and lifestyle impact the planet as a whole, so I do not get into those discourses with family and friends. The question that comes up often though is if we buy locally, as a consumer in the US, won’t it hurt the women farmers in Africa, Asia or Latin America. It is my intention that the readers of this blog shall at least stop and think for a minute about their daily actions and choices of their own about the following:

  1. Buy and eat less meat: If possible, as a consumer, try to eat locally reared and minimally processed meat, poultry, dairy and eggs. Pay a premium price to eat the best but less of it.
  2. Buy produce locally: We can all make a trip to the farmers’ markets once a week, decide to undertake meatless Mondays and get creative to incorporate more plant based foods in our diets. Country specific cuisines from across the world, including India and the Mediterranean, present numerous recipes/options without much effort.
  3. Buy and eat more whole foods: Its a simple fact that eating an orange is better than drinking a glass or bottle of the same juice (you get the fiber without the added sugar and preservatives).
  4. Buy fair trade items: For products that you know have to come from different parts of the world like coffee and chocolate, try to buy a fair trade seal product bearing items.
  5. Support small grassroots organizations and initiatives: with your donations, in kind or tax-deductible monetary donations, these organizations make your contributions go the farthest to the real in need communities.

Think globally and act locally might sound like a cliché, however it has never been more relevant than in these times.

 

Training young girls today to be water managers for tomorrow

Girls collecting water for their HH

Sisters fetching water for their family ©NEER Foundation India

<5 mins. read. Approx. 500 words.

The context:

Water security remains to be one of the top global threats and is now also a pervasive climate change issue, according to the World Bank.

Women and girls spend 200 million hours collecting water daily globally. They place themselves at an increased risk of assault and become more likely to develop medical issues related to physical labor. They also pay an opportunity cost, as this time could be better spent in school or performing other productive tasks. 

Role of women and girls:

Women have long been inextricably linked to the management of water. However, while girls continue to act as water collectors in their communities, they are often overlooked as potential water resource managers. Globally, enrollments in higher education are increasing faster for women than for men. Still in regions of the world, such as the Global South, the gap in opportunities and decision-making remains significant.

The power of youth:

By observing the most recent political instability in Hong Kong, one can presume that youth do not have the wisdom to regulate themselves or provide long term stability. One needs to be also mindful that young people cause unrest and revolt, only when there is lack of opportunities, they feel wronged, and not valued or contributing enough.

The UN Youth Climate Action Summit and recent popularity of youth activists show active and increasing engagement by young people concerned with the ramifications of climate change. This willingness is also reflected within the water management community. “Those under 35 are far more attuned to non-stationary thinking and are willing to rethink fundamental aspects of their own training”, said John Matthews, co-founder of the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation. “Senior people are often in a position where they have a lot more invested in their world view. To me, water and climate is one of the great challenges of our time,” said Matthews.

In conclusion:

Future generations of women will be as educated, if not more educated, than their male counterparts. At the same time, without institutional change, they will continue to bear the primary burden of water collection, while also being shut out of employment opportunities related to water resources management. Some evidence already suggests that when women formally participate in water management, they help improve the long-term sustainability of water systems. Only via a combination of efforts by grassroots  organizations such as NEER Foundation and international organizations such as Global Water Partnership, we can address serious global disparities.

Disclaimer: This blog post has been adopted from the article that appeared in the Wilson Center’s New Security Beat newletter. All the links provided in the article are from my past blog posts and other sources.

To read the original article, please click here.

To read all other articles related to climate change an gender from my blog, please click here and here.

This blog post Training young girls today to be water managers for tomorrow first appeared on theflipsideofdevelopment.wordpress.com

Celebrating the gift and power of the youth globally

Intl Youth Day-2019_ENG

<5 mins read. Approx. 470 words

The context:

Monday 12 August is International Youth Day, which raises awareness around challenges our young men and women face today. It’s a great opportunity to also make the knowledge and resources more accessible to youth, as they will play a vital role in the future of our planet and the generation to come. This year’s theme is #transformingeducation

My perspective:

I actually saw the power and gift of youth working, both personally and professionally, from my very first role in a small grassroots nonprofit in India. When given the gift of knowledge of rainwater harvesting and organic agriculture/gardening, the school kids in and around Meerut and other cities in neighboring region, were spreading the message excitingly! Then came the time for contribution in the form labor and kind for the rural projects, and again the power and will of youth was in full on display, in terms of digging the earth for reviving traditional rainwater harvesting structures and others. Some flag bearers still continue the work after all those years, running on that very power.

During my entire career in India, spanning over eight years, I saw the power and will of youth working in helping manage and run projects in small, big and mega cities in the states of Haryana, Rajashthan, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and others.

The future is promising:

Upon migrating to the US, I have been extremely fortunate to have been part of teams, organizations and projects where I saw the power and will of youth in action, whether it was in my volunteer assignment at the UNICEF HQ’s project in the youth and adolescent team (I still mange it pro-bono) or in Engineering for Change’s solution’s library, fellowships and opportunities portal and various other programs and offerings  and so on. Most recently, I saw this at work in Gravity Water’s mission, where I have the honor to be one of the board members and contribute.

In conclusion:

There are currently 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world. This is the largest youth population ever. However, more than half of all children and adolescents aged 6-14 lack basic reading and math skills, despite the fact that the majority of them are attending school. This global learning crisis threatens to severely hamper progress towards the SDGs.

It is very easy to get dismissive and frustrated by seeing the social media and online activities and lifestyle of the young people today. However, when you observe closely, you are able to see the driven and motivated youth, and the institutions recognizing their potential to make things happen. If tapped accurately and channelized in the most efficient manner, the power and gift of the youth can be one of the biggest keys to solving the world’s biggest challenges and achieving the SDGs for all.

This post Celebrating the gift and power of the youth globally appeared first on theflipsideofdevelopment.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solutions to help achieve WASH goals for every girl and women

photo of a person carrying baskets

Photo by Gin Patin on Pexels.com

Approx. 6 minutes read <600 words
The context:
Throughout my growing years in India, I was fortunate enough to have a piped supply of municipal water in my home. I was able to get a glass of water to drink whenever I wanted, take a shower, and if there was an announcement about interruption in water supply, my family made sure to store the water for usage. I used to think that this was the way of life for everyone. My perception changed in 2003, when I first started working for a small grassroots nonprofit in Meerut, a northern Indian city. I witnessed women and girls carrying loads of water to and from the point source for their household’s daily usage. On an average, they had to walk 3 miles per day to have adequate water for potable usage in their homes. Not only the women and girls were at risk of being attacked by stray dogs or abused by onlookers, they were missing out on the opportunities to get an education and contributing to the society.
In the developing world, from African to Asia, it is the responsibility of women and girls in households to bring water from the point source everyday. A new study review published by UNC’s Water Institute has found that carrying heavy loads of water over head (head loading) may impart physical stress to the bones and soft tissues of the neck and upper back through vertical compression, also called ‘axial loading’ or ‘axial compression.’ It’s especially dangerous for young girls in their formative years, which can result to permanent damage.
A universal problem:
While the above study focuses mostly on African countries (South African and Ghana), the challenge of carrying water overhead is a universal phenomenon in the developing world as seen in Asian countries of India and Vietnam. In India, the barrier is not only physical but also socio-economical. Dalit* women face the threat of violence against them while collecting the water unfortunately from the women of other castes. According to a paper published more than a decade ago, for the women in slums, peri-urban and urban areas, water and sanitation was one of the biggest daily challenges.
Solutions which are also low hanging fruits:
The three key policy and programmatic takeaways, in areas where water fetching must continue, strategies should focus on
  • reducing the distance to water sources,
  • providing alternatives to carrying water on the head, such as wheelbarrows, and
  • eliminating gender-based violence
In conclusion:
Fetching water is a barrier to achieving SDG 3 (“ensure healthy lives and promote well being for all at all ages”) because of its association with health problems. The burden of water collection, and the fact that it falls disproportionately on women and girls, is also a barrier to achieving target 1 of SDG 6 (SDG6.1: “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all”). Applying policy instruments along with the solutions provided in Engineering for Change’s Solutions Library shall help remove barriers to achieving these two goals for all women and girls globally.
Disclaimer:
This article originally appeared on Engineering for Change under the heading
Reflections on a Review of Studies on the Physical and Emotional Toll of Carrying Water. It has been edited slightly for the ease of the readers of this blog.

References:
This article is based on the latest study published by UNC’s Water Institute’s WASH Policy Digest. For all the data and references cited above, please refer to the original article here. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
*In India’s caste based society, Dalits are at the lowest wrung of the ladder.
Anupama Dawson

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