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Natalie Cleverly, a recent ICS volunteer talks about how young people in India are shaping conversations on climate change

On June 5th 2018, celebrations and events took place around India on World Environment Day.

In February, the UN had announced that India will host the event. The government will showcase its growing commitment to creating a greener and more sustainable future.

Excited by the announcement, we began thinking about how we could create local environmental awareness and action.

The theme for World Environment Day was #BeatPlasticPollution. This issue has sparked conversations globally. International leaders and environmentalists  have urged that we cut down on our use of plastic, pointing out that it is causing an increasing risk to both wildlife and human health.

The issue of plastic pollution in India is more relevant than ever, as was evident from from our first trip to Chennai beach. We saw the damage caused by the excessive use of plastic to Chennai’s shorelines.

Polystyrene containers and plastic bottle dragged back-and-forth in the tide, shores covered by litter among beach-goers. The overuse of single-use plastic in India, combined with the problems surrounding the disposal of waste, present an impending environmental catastrophe.

India’s waste management problem has been a significant issue since the country began its rapid economic growth. India has the second largest population in the world, totaling 1.3 billion people, and continues to grow rapidly. For a population as large as this, effective waste management is essential to have a clean and sustainable country.

The World Bank estimates that India’s daily waste generation will reach 377,000 tonnes by 2025. As India’s population increases, so does the urgency for change.

As a rising global power experiencing rapid economic growth, it has the chance to establish itself as a country that will not allow its growth to be at the expense of the environment.

Already expressing its commitment to a low-carbon economy, it’s now prepared to take responsibility for its waste, too. With a recent pledge to phase out single-use plastic in the country by 2022, India is taking an unprecedented lead on environmental change.

If India, a developing country, is able to make the decision to take action on behalf of their environmental responsibility, it may lead the way for other countries to follow in its footsteps.

Nationwide events took place in the name of World Environment Day. Thousands took part in the what the UN has coined “ the world’s largest beach cleanup” in Mumbai.  It’s part of a series of cleanups that have been ongoing for over two years.

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Volunteers clean up Mumbai’s beaches (Credit: UNEP)

 

The Indian government hosted a range of events for the day,  including clean-up groups for public areas and awareness creating events. Every school in the country was also designated to run some form of environment-related event.

In Nimminiyapatu, we made the decision to help out with this, joining in a tree-planting day at a local boys’ school. We used the opportunity to engage with the children about the issues of plastic pollution, whilst forging a connection between these pupils and their environment.

The children were able to make their own individual pledges, giving them an opportunity to take responsibility for how they can make a change to the environment. Across India young people are having similar discussion,  raising a generation of environmentally-conscious citizens.

We were all in high hopes at the end of June 5th.  It was a long day handing out leaflets , educating people on the issue of plastic pollution, as well as carrying out a handprint campaign pledging to take actions daily to protect the environment.

The day ended with some fantastic news: the Tamil Nadu government announced that the manufacture, sale, storage and use of several plastic products would be banned..

The decision was made to lead towards a state-wide shift to biodegradable cloth and paper covers.

We started to notice how strong a shift in policy and awareness in the communities we were working in.

Yet, despite the progress made on World Environment Day,the issue of waste management was still at the forefront of both the community and the Restless team’s mind.

Speaking to a local community member on the issue of waste management, she told us that poor waste management systems attracted mosquitoes, leading to a spike in malaria, dengue fever and diarrhoea cases. This was particularly hitting children the hardest.’ This is only one aspect of how human health is at risk from plastic pollution and poor waste management; it often causes sewer and drain blockages, polluting water supplies. When there is heavy rain in the region, the sewers overflow and  sewage water runs down the streets, often contaminating water supplies.

In order to address this, we decided to try and tackle this lack of awareness with the local government themselves. Aligned with local self-help groups leading the campaign, we  started a conversation to lobby local government to join us in raising awareness of how poor waste management can impact public health.

The Restless team in Tamil Nadu  are aiming to do this through a series of awareness-raising posters and banners drawn by children. They are often most at risk from poor waste management.

The drawings aim to encourage people to dispose of their waste properly, reminding them of the individuals who are most vulnerable. Additionally, our work with Restless has led  to a local petition to increase the number of waste disposal facilities in the arealto decrease disposal of waste in communal grounds. By allowing self help groups to lead the campaign, we can show the local government how prominent an issue this is for the local community, as well as giving citizens the responsibility to carry on pushing the government for change after our cycle of volunteers leaves.

Whilst India is certainly making significant progress towards taking ownership of their environmental responsibilities as a global power,, it still has a long way to go. There needs to be a shift in both individual action, and government policies,to make India’s future sustainable.

With growing awareness globally of the importance of our own personal and national actions towards environmental welfare, the pressure on countries such as India to establish their own long-term environmental plans is gaining ever-increasing momentum.

Whether changes will occur quickly enough is another matter.


Read more about Natalie’s experience volunteering with ICS in India.

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