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How South Asian youth is voicing climate impacts and environmental issues on global platforms?

Rabbi Calra

Climate Activists: Global forums apart, youth is also active in the field, where actual impact is created. Although, at this point, more participation from the youth of the region is required.

Climate change is a pressing issue that affects us all, and today’s youth are taking a stand to fight against it. From organizing climate strikes to developing innovative solutions, young people are using their voices and creativity to address this critical issue. Beyond that, youngsters of today are also participating in world forums and representing their regions/communities and the issues that impact their lives. This, not only brings such issues to the fore while giving them an international audience but also provides a portal for collective thinking and ideation.

South Asia, as a geographical region, although divided into several countries and nations, still experiences similar climate and environment-related issues which impact the lives of the people, alike. The seasons, climate factors and overall weather are similar in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and youth from the region are raising these common issues at international forums.

Asian News Makers had conversations with some of the young climate warriors, who are actively involved in various activities ranging from spreading environment literacy to projects which bring in a larger change for the future.

“Ever since I was a child, I wanted to do something with the environment” – Heeta Lakhani, India.

Founder and Director, The ClimAct Initiative and Co-Founder of Youth Negotiators Academy,
Heeta’s story as a climate activist began from a young age bent towards nature and the environment. She pursued her Master’s in Environment Studies from the University of Delhi. Post her studies, while working in a corporate job she came to know about the events that are organized to spread awareness in the environment. She eventually ended up visiting The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris. Once back, she quit her job and started working full-time to spread awareness of climate change and was part of the youth delegation for the next COP.

Talking about her international exposure to global climate events, Heeta believes there is still a lack of representation from India at the global forums. She also points out the missing education on the environment and climate change, in the country. Although, according to her, things are slowly changing now.

Heeta says that the Global North has to pay for the historical emissions and impacts on South Asia. It can be in terms of various financial assistance or through the implementation of the COP27 Loss and Damage Fund. She also believes that countries in the South Asian region should make collaborative efforts to address environmental issues, whether through shared technology or intellect.

She is presently working on spreading environmental awareness among communities in Tier 2 and 3 towns and cities of India, which she believes are the most vulnerable to climate impact.

“We are threatened by our neighbours and other members of the community, to quit working as climate activists” – Wasim (name changed), Turbat, Balochistan, Pakistan

Wasim was born into a family of agriculturists, who owned dates plantations, one of the primary crops of the Kech region in Balochistan, Western Pakistan. “Over the years, we experienced a decline in the yield of date, one of the main sources of income for our household. I researched and found it is because of the change in the climate of the region. I wanted to know more about it and help my community, so I took admission into Environmental Sciences course at the University of Peshawar.”

It is during his years at the university, Wasim came in touch with fellow students, who were researching similar issues, one of whom had participated in COP26 at Glasgow. His friends introduced him to various environmental activist groups, motivating him to work on the issues impacting his native region.

He says there is exorbitant growth in urbanization in the Turbat region, as more people from the urban areas are purchasing lands in the rural belts, only to develop townships and residential buildings. This is not just destroying the ecosystem of the region, but impacting the crop production in the areas surrounding the region. Moreover, the weather pattern has changed drastically, and early monsoon affects the development of date crop, which needs high temperatures to mature properly.

Another major concern raised by Wasim is that of improper waste disposal. “It might be shocking for the outside world, but even medical waste is not properly disposed-off in our vicinity. When I started raising these issues, I was threatened by some members of our society, who reached out to elders in my family, to urge me to stop working on such environmental concerns.”

Wasim also rues little to no help from the authorities and local administration and says he works as a climate activist, without revealing his identity.

“We only have 30 years to avoid the worst effects of climate change” – Prachi Shevgaonkar, Founder, Cool The Globe

This type of huge transformation requires action from ordinary citizens. We started making climate action easy for global citizens, to do things they can do from their own homes, reducing their own waste. We started making videos, on how we can bring changes and people started sharing them.
Sharing her experience, Prachi said, “Before launching the Cool The Globe app, I travelled a lot to understand how climate change actually impacts global citizens. I realised that it is not just about the catastrophic impacts, but climate change is impacting our everyday lives, our home, food and family. It is important to speak about it in the language we know.”

Speaking about the climate impact in South Asia, Prachi feels although the issues are similar in the region, awareness is also low throughout the region. There is also a common need to change the way we are talking about climate change. The discussion on the issue is confined to large forums and podiums but is not accessible to the common masses.

She said an old farmer taught her more about climate change in simple language than any other global report ever could. He said the weather has become so unreliable, that small farmers like him cannot grow substantial food and when he cannot do so, a thousand people are deprived of access to food. He knew something is not right, but he did not what exactly climate change is and how it is happening.

When asked whether there is a need for South Asian countries to come together on a common platform to fight climate change, Prachi affirmed, saying the region suffers from similar climate issues and we can identify solutions together. More than the forum, we need representation from the grass-root level across the region. We need people from all walks of life to interact and discuss the issues impacting their lives.

“More youth needs to think about climate and how it would impact our future generations” – Farzana Faruk Jhumu, Climate activist and UNICEF Youth Advocate, Dhaka, Bangladesh

For Farzana to become a climate activist, it took a whole journey, which brought her face-to-face with the real-life climate issues prevalent in Bangladesh. In 2018, she volunteered to work in a slum, educating children, whose families, she came to know were displaced from their native places. Their parents had to leave coastal villages and settle in Dhaka due to Cyclone Sidr which happened in 2007.
This made her think about climate and how long it has been impacting our lives. She joined Fridays for

Future and Most Affected People and Areas (MAPA) as a volunteer. She believes it is time to shift the narrative about climate from a future problem to a “now” issue.

“Living in Bangladesh I realized how real the issue of rising sea-level and increased underwater salinity is. I found women walking several miles to fetch drinking water as the underground water in their vicinity is undrinkable. Women and children are more vulnerable to the issue and this motivated them to work to spread awareness about climate change.”

Farzana feels it does not end here and the water salinity issue would spiral into a much larger problem as it is constantly affecting the crops, leading to food insecurity. She urges the Bangladesh Government to make effective policies to curtail climate issues.

Global forums apart, youth is also active in the field, where actual impact is created. Although, at this point, more participation from the youth of the region is required. Such exchange of thoughts and ideas can also pave the way for Governments, civil societies and authorities across countries to come together on a common platform of climate-related policy-making.

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