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Climate and Health: Insights and observations from diverse geographical and economic backgrounds

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Authors: Harmanpreet, Chhaya Bhanti, Anamika Ghosh, Aakriti Wanchoo

Editors/Reviewers: Sumantra (Shumone) Ray, Sarah Armes, Wanja Nyaga, Ramya Rajaram, Sucheta Mitra

Acknowledgements: Shobhana Nagaraj, Anant Jani, Patrick Fahr, Swapan Mehra, and key project members from Vertiver, NNEdPro, and the University of Oxford.

Climate change is a major global issue affecting ecosystems and communities. Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts occurred naturally in the past but recently human activities have been driving them, primarily due to burning fossil fuels (like coal, oil, and gas), which produces heat-trapping gases. The change in temperature and weather has been seen and felt by everyone around the Globe, with serious implications for food production and human health.

NNEdPro, in collaboration with Oxford University and Vertiver in India, has pledged to work in this area to raise awareness and encourage people to take action to save Mother Earth and limit the impact of climate change for future generations. The project focused on three components: (1) Climate Change and Health, (2) Climate Change and Livelihood, and (3) Climate Change and Food/Nutrition at Policy, Practice, and Population levels (both urban & rural).

On 2nd September, a transect walk was organised in an urban slum in Kolkata, observing and interacting with slum dwellers in order to extract knowledge about the perceptions of climate change in the Community while analyzing the component at an Urban population level. The team was divided into three groups interacting with different individuals/groups at Batala slum with a total population of approximately 11000-12000 people residing in more than 1000 houses in Ultadanga. Simultaneously, the Vertiver team conducted an observational study of rural Rajasthan, analysing the impact of climate change on the rural population.

One of the major observations made by all three teams in Kolkata was that people are unaware of the fact that their own practices are the leading cause of various undesirable changes in the environment. In terms of Climate change and Health, a portion of the population mentioned feeling uneasy and drastic energy loss due to the increased temperature, and the frequency of the common cold had increased in the past couple of years. When inquired about the effect of Climate change on livelihood, the reaction between all three groups was similar - Every individual was concerned that their low income would not be sufficient to sustain lives, but most of the population blamed COVID-19 and the government for the change. When asked about their food intake, it was mentioned that they usually reduce the amount of food group in their daily intake if the availability of the particular food is less in their location or the price is high. Only a few of the old aged people mentioned that the food they used to have, was tastier and more nutritious than the meals they are having now. They also mentioned that they have noticed the change in environment/climate/weather in the past few years.

The Vertiver team in association with Basic Health Services (an organization working with rural people on health, nutrition and livelihood) conducted FGDs and key informant interviews in Handi village situated in Salumbar block of Udaipur District (rural Rajasthan). The team interacted with smallholder farmers and migrant workers to assess the impact of climate change on agriculture and other aspects of their lives.

Following are the key insights received from this interaction:

Lack of opportunities in the village and reduced soil productivity and degraded natural ecosystems combined with insufficient and erratic rainfall have left people with no choice but to seek employment in urban areas. The majority of the men from families in this block migrate to nearby cities in Gujarat and Maharashtra for odd jobs/contractual jobs in search of income and secured livelihoods. The migrant workers on average spend 7 months a year away from their villages and return only occasionally throughout the year.

Agriculture vulnerability is high in this area as the farmers here rely on water collected in nearby streams for both Rabi and Kharif crops. The staple crop grown is corn followed by wheat along with small vegetables like eggplant and ridged gourd. BHS has recently begun a project in which seeds of local millet varieties (Noni Makki, Kangani and Kodra) were provided to farmers as part of encouraging nutrition-sensitive agriculture practices and reviving millet cultivation. Farmers here have not been able to include millets as part of their staple diet, due to several barriers to growing millets, which include access to seeds, lack of awareness of their nutritional value, higher perceived input cost and labour. In addition, the reliance on PDS-based wheat for personal consumption has reduced the incentive to put extra effort to grow millets.

Some aspects of nutrition and gender were also revealed during the FGD. Interviewed families stated that women are not allowed to consume any form of meat either chicken or egg, at home. The social norm dictates that people won’t drink water in those houses where meat is consumed by women. Out of 100 households, only 20% of people eat meat (mutton and fish) and that too only once in 2-3 months.

The BHS centre in this area serves many people afflicted with chronic respiratory illnesses such as TB and Silicosis and rates of malnutrition and anemia are extremely high in this area, especially in women and children. The 6-month treatment prescribed by doctors is often times discontinued by the patients after 3 months with that money instead going to other uses including even damaging intoxicants such as tobacco or alcohol. Incidences of heat stroke and heat stress have become more common and climate change has been directly attributed to increased infant mortality rates.

Vertiver and NNEDPRO organized an exploratory hybrid workshop was conducted on the impact of Climate change on rural and urban food security (Exploratory Workshop on Climate Change and Heat Resilience in Food and Health Systems - India) on 3rd and 9th September 2022 to gather insights from various stakeholders.

One of the key insights gathered was from Rajeev Khandelwal, from Aajeevika Mission (one of the key speakers at the workshop). It was stated that the migrated farmers often end up working in hazardous conditions wherein they become victims of life-threatening diseases, and they often bring back those diseases to their respective villages and native places. This additional adverse impact of climate on livelihood and the burden of disease among the low-income population is ever-increasing and targeting millions of people.

Key policy people attended the workshop and represented organisations such as SM Sehgal Foundation, Centre for Research on Innovation and Science Policy (CRISP), Ajeevika Bureau, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, and Banyan Roots. Stakeholders from Oxford University, Panjab University, Vertiver, Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), Oak Foundation, Calcutta Rescue, and Bhavishya Shakti Cooperative Society (NNEdPro) who are working on the issue of Climate change in India also participated in the workshop.

In this day and age, consumers demand a certain uniformity in the way vegetables and fruits look and feel, but the change in weather events leads to changes in harvest, and Consumer’s demands are not met, and some food items were rejected as they did not meet the quality expectations of the consumers. This again causes the farmers to suffer due to less revenue and increasing losses after the harvesting season. Due to the scarcity of rainfalls during the cropping season, groundwater was depleted, leading to an uprising topic of concern for the public and Government in the North Indian States.

A few approaches to address these issues are derived in discussions with various stakeholders, and policymakers on 2nd September 2022 in Kolkata and on 9th September 2022 in Delhi.

  • Awareness Programs need to be conducted

  • Implementation of Government policies at the grassroots level

  • Inclusion of youths in policy-making and implementation

Hence, planning is on the way as NNEdPro will be training MTK Champions to create awareness in their own community and then disseminating the knowledge within the communities.

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