Monday, November 30, 2015

COP 21: Can it ease the burden of Durga?

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, beginning from today, I am running a 2-week blog campaign, connecting the dots among COP21, Climate Change and Gender. 

I just met Durga Rajak in Kathamndu - the capital of Nepal. She is in her early forties and runs a roadside eatery with her husband. The most popular dish in their eatery is Choila - spicy, fried duck meat served hot with flattened rice which sells for 50 Nepali rupees (about $40 cent) a plate. It's not a lot of money since a kg of meat costs 650 rupees ($6) , so, Durga always kept the expenses low by working extra hard such as  buying produces from local growers and carrying things on her motorbike, instead of employing a person.

But these days, Durga is struggling. Normally, she uses Liquefied Petroleum Gas or "cooking gas". But since the end of September, cooking gas - besides petrol and diesel -has become hard to find. So, she is now using stoves that run on kerosene. Sometimes, when kerosene is unavailable, Durga uses diesel (which she buys in the black market) in her stove.

 Its very risky and  every time she lights the stove, Durga fears a blast.

But its a risk she must take. Only a few months ago, in April, Kathmandu was hit by a massive earthquake.At that time, Durga had to close her eatery for several weeks. She had also spent nearly a month under the open sky, on little little food and water. Today she is determined to keep her business running, come whatever may. "To be dependent on others is tough," she says.

But currently she is dependent on a number of people for her survival: the cooking gas distributors, the petrol& diesel stations and also the black marketeers. How long could she go on?  She was quiet, but I could sense her answer: "as long as I can."

A thought came in my mind as I heard her story: what would have happened if Durga had a stove that ran on solar energy? Or, a bio gas stove? Or, a rooftop solar panel that produced enough electricity to run an electric stove? 

Her life would have been certainly different. To begin with, Durga would not have to worry so much about the fuel shortage. She would definitely not be spending so much money ( 250, instead of 81 Nepali rupees) to buy diesel from black marketeers. She would also not  choke every time on the smoke of the stove or close her eyes, fearing a blast every time she lit a stove.

So, why could not she? Surely her country has a renewable energy mission? Well, here's her answer: "nobody told me about a solar stove or where and how I could get one". The other answer is, as a small, least developed country" Nepal doesn't have the money or the means to give every citizen access to cleaner energy.

Now, today - the first day of the COP21 - in Paris, leaders from 19 countries just pledged to create a new energy revolution by by investing more into energy research. What this actually means is that in next 5 years, there will be more money - $20 billion to be precise -for researchers to find more energy-related innovations.

Will the benefits of these innovations be for women like Durga? Or, for that matter, women in a poor country like hers'? Would these innovation help them access fuel that is cleaner, locally produced and easily accessible?

I hope it does. Let us talk of this.

Or else, it would be pointless to don't know that the world spent 20 billion dollar the most disadvantaged women remained just as disadvantaged and just as dependent on fossil fuel for their survival.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Food Waste : Writing On The Wall Just Got Bigger

This week began with some exciting news :the UN just fed some world leaders trash and that it was great.


Ok, here is how it happened: In New York, Ban-ki-Moon , the UN Secretary General, hosted for 30 of his guests  - comprising presidents, prime ministers and royals - a lunch that was made of  food waste.

In plain words, each dish of each course on the menu - from appetizer to dessert - was made of material that was considered waste and would have ended in a trash bin.

The salad on the lunch was made from unwanted vegetable scraps, stalks and outer leaves salvaged from the waste of big food producers.

There were burgers and fries and these were made of thrown away vegetables including ends of cucumber thrown out by pickle makers. They also used 'cow corn' - corn that are considered too hard for human consumption and so are fed to cows instead.

That is not all. The bread on the lunch table was baked from

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Indian Women Adapting to Climate Change: 10 Photos You Will Like

At least 80% of my stories are on rural communities. I go to faraway hills, nomad hamlets and fishing villages and, I am always searching for signs where women in these most unheard communities are using technology for a better life. What I find is always amazing:  women, most of them with little or no education, are using technology to fight for their rights, health, freedom and an improved livelihood. Below are 10 photos of how women in villages are using technology to adapt to climate change.

Tracking the weather

 As the climate becomes more erratic every passing day, rural communities are finding it increasingly tough to rely on their traditional knowledge of weather. So, they are now learning to monitor it. In this photo, taken in Medak district of southern India, women of a village are using a mini weather station. Here, they track the movement of wind, cloud and measure temperature and rainfall - everything that will later help them plan their farming activities.
 Using mobile phone technology

 Mobile phones are immensely popular in India. But these women are using mobile phones  in the smartest way possible: sharing information on weather, availability of seeds, fertilizer, soil testing facilities and so on.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Water water everywhere: Not a farmer to spot!

I just returned from the World Water Week in Stockholm, the Swedish capital.

Organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), the week-long event was focusing on Water and it's intricate and crucial link to development worldwide. It was, as I learned, the 25th year of the event.
The Prime Minister of Sweden addressing the participants at the inaugural session of the World Water Week.

As you would expect in a global event like this, there were participants from different walks of development and water: scientists, finance experts, engineers, political leaders and activists and media personnel like me. There were talks of innovation, technology, finance, aid, collaboration, policy, regulation, transparency and so on. We also heard some country heads talk about some of the burning issues of our time: climate change, disasters, conflict and the migrant influx.

But there was something crucial that was missing: the voice of the farmer. And it came as a surprise - of a rather shocking nature. After all, this was an event discussing water and it's role in the world's development, especially the Sustainable Development Goals which are soon to replace the Millennium Development Goals.

Food production and food security are always the key to  a sustainable world. And everyone was talking of this - except the food grower himself. Irony much?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Youth Climate Leadership: Lets Also Mind the Sharks

A couple of weeks back, I was in Singapore's United World College of South East Asia, listening to a roomful of young men and women talking passionately about climate change. As they spoke, a sharp, almost painful, thought struck my mind: "are we serious about transformative leadership here, or, is this just another ritualistic act?"

Now, why did I think of this? A little background might help. 

The youths I heard were from the ASEAN member states (If you didn't know already, these are Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar) and they were here to take part in ASEAN Power Shift 2015 - a 3-day  training workshop on climate change and the  upcoming Paris Climate Conference (COP 21).
Youths at ASEAN Power Shift 2015. Photo credit: Young NTUC

It was a pretty diverse group:: some were graduate students in a university while others were still in junior high schools. Some already had a lot of knowledge about climate change and erratic weather, while others only had a faint idea of what it might be. And, as I found out later, only about half of  them lived in cities, with 24x7 internet access while  the other half lived in the provinces with little or no access to digital connectivity. 

Yet here they were - bound by a common thread: concern for a fast degrading environment in their respective countries and a strong wish to set it right

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Smart Sanitation: Shimla Sets an Example

A couple of days back, I read this really great news about Shimla - a hill station in the north of India: the popular tourist hub is aiming for smart sanitation by installing hundreds of E-toilets.

Now, what is E-toilet? Well, its an unmanned toilet which cleans itself, one that's based on a sensor-based technology.

Let me explain a little more.  As you see in the photo below, the toilet has a locked door. Now, when you want to use it, you insert a coin to open the door. As the door opens, the toilet's sensor-based light system is automatically turns on - pretty much like the way your ATM teller machine turns on when you swipe your card.
An E-toilet. Courtesy: Eram Scientific

And, just like the ATM machine, the toilet also will direct you with audio commands. This means, you will be directed on how to use the toilet.

To conserve water, the toilets are programmed to flush 1.5 liter of water after three minutes of usage and 4.5 liters if the usage is longer. This “smart” toilet also washes the platform by itself after every five or 10 persons use the toilet. An instructional note is pasted outside the toilet to make the user familiar with the functioning of this toilet. The auto flush goes off on its own and uses just the right amount of water that is needed - not less and not more.

 But why is Shimla adopting e-toilet, instead of building more of the old-style conventional toilets?

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Rohingya Refugees: Vulnerable on the sea, not much better on land!

You probably have been reading about them these past few days or watching them on TV - the Rohingya refugees of Myanmar who were chased out of their homeland and now floating around the ocean on boats with no food, no water and nowhere to go. Hundreds of them have already died already while death stares at hundreds of others.

Truth is, hunger and misery are also constant companions of even those Rohingyas who live on the land. I met some of them in Hyderabad city of India. Sharing here some of the images that, several months later, still haunt me!

The Rohingya refugees arrived in India from Bangladesh. For some, it has been a few weeks, while some have been here since 2012. Each one of them has a horrific story to share: beaten, tortured, forced to leave home, watching their near ones being murdered and their homes being burned down.