Taking steps toward clean water in an Assam tea garden

Project: Together for H2OPE

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Assam, India is famous for its high quality black tea and home to Numi Tea’s largest supplier. Yet Assam is one of India’s poorest states, in terms of access to safe drinking water. Fewer than 1 in 15 households have access to tap water. Many women and children walk up to 3 hours per day to collect and carry water for their families, facing security risks, poor health, and barriers to productive livelihoods.

In 2016 WEA and the Numi Foundation teamed up with local NGOs and the Chamong Tea Company to launch the Together for H20PE Project in a commitment to bring clean water to all 6,500 residents of the Tonganagoan tea community, and to ensure residents have the knowledge and resources they need for a healthy water system for generations to come.

Together for H20PE’s first step in the spring of 2016 was to conduct a preliminary WASH assessment of Tonganagoan’s water system. “WASH” (shorthand for water, sanitation and hygiene) is a multi-faceted approach to assessing and developing healthy water systems. A WASH program looks at resident’s access to clean water as well as the community’s sanitation and hygiene practices. A good example of a WASH approach is recognizing that improperly stored water, even clean water, can cause contamination and make someone sick. Each aspect of a healthy water system enforces the others.

Demonstration on hand washing
Building a diverse and comprehensive outreach plan is essential to widespread adoption of healthy WASH practices.

The project’s implementing partner Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET) brought in Aranyak, a local conservation NGO, to help assess Tonganagoan’s existing water infrastructure and understand resident’s current water practices. Their comprehensive assessment guided the team in planning structural improvements while PBET designed an outreach approach to ensure the widespread adoption of healthy WASH practices.

From summer to fall of 2016, the team conducted a pilot program in one of the 12 villages that make up the Toganagoan Tea Garden. Over the course of two Training of Trainers workshops, volunteers learned the ins and outs of the technical WASH principles and built up their communication skills. These new trainers will be leaders for healthy water practices in their community. To support their outreach efforts, the team specifically learned some songs to remember WASH practices and developed a street play for public WASH demonstrations. (Below is a snippet of a song about hygiene!)

In the Training of Trainers workshops, volunteers learned how to conduct water tests and interpret the results from samples.
Volunteers learned songs and put together skits to engage their community in WASH techniques. Listen to one of the songs about hygiene that the new trainers teach to children.


The pilot program answered many key questions about outreach and education in the community. Extensive home visits and demonstrations helped the team pinpoint which water treatment practices are most readily adopted by residents and how to help volunteers be effective stewards of WASH practices.

Using everything they learned from the pilot program, we’re busy collaboratively designing a Master Plan to engage the other eleven villages in WASH practices. We’re so excited to see Together for H20PE take shape and make an impact in these communities.

Stewards of Food Culture and Biodiversity: Voices from the Northeast

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

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In her piece for Vikalp Sangam, Rucha Chitnis shines her light on the challenges faced by communities in Northeast India to preserve the region’s rich agrobiodiversity and food culture.

“A journey on a food trail in the region [also] reveals a rich agrobiodiversity and a unique food culture that has been stewarded by local communities–from the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam to remote mountainous tribes in Arunachal Pradesh. In the face of modernization, mining, oil exploration and escalating deforestation, both, the biodiversity of species and food crops, including wild edibles, are threatened.”

As Rucha explains, since forests are a vital source of food and indigenous crops, new economic policies supporting large infrastructure projects in the area could pose a direct threat to small scale farmers.

The article uplifts the voices of four activists and advocates working for ecological justice in their communities of Northeast India. Their work takes different angles but it is no coincidence that each is concerned with empowering women to raise their voices and be recognized as key players in ecological justice. We are especially excited to hear from Mary Beth Sanate of Rural Women’s Upliftment Society (RWUS). RWUS works to promote sustainable livelihoods in the face of conflict and climate change, and was a WEA South Asia Small Grants Initiative partner. Mary Beth and RWUS’s work advocating policy and social change on behalf of women’s rights continues to be an inspiration to us!

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Mary Beth Sanate of RWUS (third from right). Photo: Rucha Chitnis.

“We need a strong gender policy in the state and women’s participation in the development of climate change policies is key…women are slowly realizing that the customary law is discriminatory. It needs to be reformed so that women can have equal access to property, political participation and other resources.” — Mary Beth Sanate

Read the full article here.

Nepal quake impact on single women highlights need for equal land rights

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

Topics: ,

By now, we are all aware of the devastating impact the 2015 earthquakes had on Nepal. What may not have been as comprehensively covered in the weeks and months that followed was the acute impact on women.

According to this article in Reuters, “Of the more than 900,000 homes damaged and destroyed, about a quarter belonged to female-headed households. More than 500,000 women and girls were displaced and about 2,000 women were widowed, according to official data.”

Photo: UN Women/Piyavit Thongsa-Ard
Photo: UN Women/Piyavit Thongsa-Ard

“The deep gender inequality in Nepal meant that women, and single women in particular, suffered most in the aftermath of the earthquakes,” said Lily Thapa, founder of Women for Human Rights (WHR), a group campaigning for single women’s rights with about 100,000 members.

“They could not make themselves heard and they received the least assistance, which left many vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and harassment,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Kathmandu.

While the 2015 constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender and established equal property rights, a deep-rooted patriarchy still denies these rights to women, and to single women in particular…

“Strengthening single women’s asset ownership is key to reducing their vulnerability to disasters and boosting their resilience,” Thapa said.

Read the full article here.

Women, disasters and climate change

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

Topics: ,

As Mary Robinson and Wangari Maathai stated in the Huffington Post in 2010, “The battle to protect the environment is not solely about technological innovation — it is also about empowering women and their communities to hold their governments accountable for results.” This has been a core foundation of WEA’s work for the last decade, and — as this article in The Jakarta Post details — our current times and the natural disasters we see around the world today reinforce this very principle, driving home the need to truly invest in the women around the world who invest in our earth and communities.

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The Jakarta Post/Seto Wardhana

In his speech in 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said climate change affected people of all ages and gender albeit in different scales and intensity. However, the most vulnerable are the poor, while women are disproportionately affected as compared with men, with a ratio of 4:1. According to the World Bank (2008), 61 percent of victims from the Myanmar hurricane were female, 80 percent from the Aceh tsunami and 67 percent from Hurricane Gorky in Bangladesh.

Women also endure greater ongoing suffering from the impacts of climate change. For example, failed crops causing food scarcity may further result in a sharp increase in malnutrition among women and girls — as many traditions prioritize food for men and boys as the breadwinners of the family. During long droughts, women must walk as far as 10 kilometers just to fetch a bucket of water for their families.

These circumstances may lead to the misperception that women are more vulnerable to the impacts of disasters because of their weak physical characteristics; in reality, it is gender inequality that contributes to the high proportion of women’s suffering amid disasters.

Read the full article here.

India’s new reforestation law ignores indigenous people

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

Topics: ,

Analysts and experts are stating that a new Indian law — the Compensatory Afforestation, Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) law — aimed at boosting reforestation across the country ignores the importance of indigenous people in conserving land and tramples on their rights.

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“Evidence from around the world shows that farmers and local communities are far more efficient and effective at protecting landscapes as compared to centralized bureaucracies”, said Neera Singh, an environmental justice expert and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, in the Indian Express newspaper

Under the [previous law: the landmark 2006 Forest Rights Act (FRA)], forest dwellers cannot be removed from their land without consent of village councils, which are made up of local residents.

Under the CAMPA bill however, authority to earmark land for development and assign compensation for it, lies solely with forest and state officials.

India’s new law facilitates displacement “without any accountability to the people whose forests, lands and lives will be damaged or destroyed”, said the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a coalition of charities supporting tribal rights.

This new policy raises deep concern for us at WEA, as many of the adivasi women we partner with are forest guardians and gardeners, relying on the forest as they have for generations as a source of food, fuel and livelihoods. Meanwhile, these women are also preserving traditional knowledge and holding critical expertise on forest management and, therefore, climate change mitigation.

Read the full article here.