Tuesday, December 01, 2015

COP21: Can it help a HIV Positive Bimla?

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. 

It's 2nd day of COP21. It's also World AIDS Day.  Let me bring you the story of Bimla - a young woman from Machalipatnam - a coastal town in southern India. Barely 25 year old, Bimla is a widow and lives with HIV.

What is the connection between  Bimla and COP21 or Climate Change? To understand that, you need to hear how Bimla got the virus. She was infected by her husband - a farmer who lost his farm to a cyclone in 2010 ( That cyclone - cyclone Laila, was actually one of the 60 cyclones that their state has seen in past 4 decades),
migrated to Mumbai for work where he contracted HIV, probably from a  sex worker.

In 2013, the husband died of AIDS. It was only after his death that Bimla learned what killed her husband. Next, she learned that she was also HIV positive. Once her sickness was known, Bimla's parents in laws threw her out of their house. A few friends helped and gave her 500 rupees  ($7) to start a business. 

Today, she sells flowers outside a temple. In a good week, she makes about $10. Most of the money goes into paying the rent of a 1 room apartment where I met her. At the government hospitals, she gets free treatment (Antiretroviral Therapy) for HIV, but otherwise, she has a hand to mouth existence.

Every year, 35% of India's total population migrate within the country, most of them for work. These include farmers with no land of their own and farmers like Bimla's husband who have less than 2 acres of land and are totally dependent on rain for farming. These "seasonal migrants" leave their homes in October or November, after harvesting is over and work as contract/casual laborers for about 6 months, till the rain comes.

Sometimes, the migrants come home, spend a day or two with their families before returning again. This is how Bimla's husband passed on the virus to her.

If  the world had a better mechanism to prevent climate-induced disasters and if there was enough climate finance, would not that have helped women like Bimla have a better life? Also, if we had a universal, climate-smart healthcare plan - one that could offer an integrated service of healthcare, finance for alternative livelihood and social security for all disaster victims including climate migrants and wives and children who are left behind, could it not  have benefited women like Bimla?

Sure, climate change does not cause HIV/AIDS. But it has found a way to reach and victimize women who are poor, who are battered by erratic climate and have no Plan B to survive. When the first Dengue or Chikun Gunia epidemics began to break out, we were not ready to see a climate connection into it. We see that now.

Are we ready to see the connection between HIV positive women in disaster-prone zones and climate? It's high time we did that!


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