Thursday, December 03, 2015

A ray hope for Neha at COP21

21st UNFCCC Conference of the Parties or COP21 has just begun. Its THE most important climate summit of our lifetime where we expect the world to strike a climate deal - one that will be "gender responsive". On the occasion, I am running a 2-week blog campaign, connecting the dots among COP21, Climate Change and Gender

 A very interesting development took place on the 3rd day of COP21: the World Bank Group announced that it would make a  US$500 million investment to support one of India's groundwater program.  India, we must remember, is the world’s largest consumer of groundwater.

The announcement made me think of Neha - the little girl in the picture - a 6th grade school student who spends several hours out of school, drawing water for the family everyday from a small pond. The quality of water - as you can see - is horrible.
A muddy pond - the main source of water for Neha

 Its just liquid mud, to be honest. But during the winter and summer, that's the only water available to the girl and her family, apart from a few pots of drinkable water for which she has to travel nearly 2 km, to a larger pond. They use it to clean their cooking utensils, their clothes and to bathe. Neha's father works in a coal mine and her mother is pregnant, so the job of meeting the family's water needs lies on the girl's little shoulders.

The village where Neha lives falls in Dumka - a disstrict in Jharkhand state which is rich in minerals , but is largely impoverished. The majority of the population here belongs to various indigenous communities with low income. The district is also having lots of water challenges: rainfall has become erratic, droughts have become more common and  groundwater level has dropped, 

In 2013, the federal government of India launched a program to help people from low income families in 4 of India's poorest states, including Jharkhand. Neha and her neighbors are yet to get the benefit of that. 

So, how can the new funding help Neha or girls like her? Here, lets read a line from the government Press Release on that:

The project will improve access and usage of piped drinking water supplied into individual homes. Women and children will benefit significantly from project intervention as they currently bear most of the burden of securing daily water supplies.
Lifting a large water pitcher and carrying it during the days of her period is especially difficult, Neha says. When we evaluate our water programs, lets also ask "did adolescent girls benefit from this?"

  This means, 
1. The funding can help the project to bring tap water to Neha. She no longer has to use that dirty, muddy water. 

2. Also, she can go to school in time and find enough time to do her homework. Right now, all her free time goes into fetching water.

3. Neha has just started to menstruate. She told me this : "Its very difficult to lift water pitchers when I have periods. My friends in school say that I should not do this, but I have to. If I don't, who will?"
Piped water for this girl could mean less risks of heavy menstrual flow, less abdomen pain and definitely less difficulty in washing the clothes that she uses as sanitary pads.
 Finally, it could mean the girl could just be a girl and do what girls of her age should do - study, play, have fun with friends.
In morning, one of Neha's friends is going to school, but Neha is still busy fetching water

$500 million can change so many lives in the 4 states of India.  Of course, it will depend a lot on the smooth transfer of money, the management and the implementation of the project. But those are governance issues. 

Right now, we can certainly feel happy that at COP21 one decision at least made a decision  that promises a better life for so many of our people - including our little girl.

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