Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: The Year That It Was

 How was 2015? Sharing here a few leaves out of my diary that's full of memories - of traveling and story-telling.

With Village Women who Fight Traffickers

The first trip of the year took me to the villages of Lambadi people (a Nomadic tribe) in Mahabubnagar district of Telangana. Not so long ago, these villages were a notorious hub for sale and trafficking of baby girls. But today, local women are ensuring that every girl goes to school. They also fighting against child labor and child marriage. Here you can read their inspiring story - Not Without Our Daughters: Lambada Women Fight Infanticide and Child Trafficking.

Telling stories of India’s Development Refugees

In February, I met men, women and children of Koya and Konda – primitive forest tribes living in India’s Eastern Ghat mountain. Soon, thousands of them will become refugees as a mega dam is coming up in their homeland. Here is the link to their story  'Development refugees' resist Indian dam

But even as uncertainty is looming large over their future, the tribal community is learning skills that will keep them food-secure even in the most adverse situation. Here you can read that story "In the Shadow of Displacement, Forest Tribes Look to Sustainable Farming"

Hong Kong, Women Empowerment Journalism Award

In early March, I was in Hong Kong, for the Diageo Women Empowerment Journalism Awards. I was honored to be a finalist in the Journalist of the Year category.

But my personal favorite moment came when a group of tribal people I was visiting for a story invited me to dance with them. That’s the greatest honor!

Breaking bread with anti-slavery warriors 
I was in Bellary and Hampi districts of Karnataka where the horrible sexual slavery called Devadasi (“temple slave”) is still practiced. Girls from the marginalized communities are forced to ‘marry’ a deity, then prohibited from marrying a man. But as they grow up, they are forced to have sex with men who come from more affluent and powerful class of the society. 

I spent several days meeting women and girls and boys who are jointly fighting this cruel practice. Here is their very powerful story From Slavery to Self Reliance: A Story of Dalit Women in South India

The story was also nominated for a Lorenzo Natalie Awards later.

Hearing the Radio Women of Bundelkhand

As the merciless summer blazed on, I was in villages along river Betwa in India’s Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh states. Here, I met women who use radio to fight the challenging issues in their communities: child marriage, farmers’ suicide, water, deforestation and climate change. You can read my story on them - Farmers Find their Voice Through Radio in the Badlands of India -  here.

I also met tribal women who are leading a powerful ground movement  against  gender-based violence. Here is their story "‘Legal Friends’ Fight Gender Violence in Rural India"  that personally inspired me.

Bhutan, training local journalists in gender-sensitive reporting

As the monsoon came, I was in the world’s happiest country – the mountain kingdom of Bhutan to conduct a 2-day media workshop with journalists from the local media. Organized by the Bhutan Media Foundation, It was a very fulfilling workshop where I shared skills and experiences with the attendees of how to tell a story in a gender-balanced and gender-sensitive way. 

Once the workshop was over, the reporter in me took over and met local farmers who are helping Bhutan become the world’s first organic country by 2020. You can read this story "To build a greener economy, Bhutan wants to go organic by 2020" here

Singapore – Training ASEAN Youths in Climate Change Blogging

In July, I was in Singapore for the youth event ASEAN Power Shift 2015. During this 3-day event I co-conducted a training workshop with youths from 10 ASEAN countries on blogging on climate change. The participants were mostly students from high schools and colleges and their eagerness to learn gave me a lot of hope. May they become a unified voice against climate change!

Later in the month, I visited Portland (Oregon) - home of World Pulse for our annual board meeting. It was a true homecoming!

 Stockholm – Covering the World Water Week

August brought some awesome news: the Stockholm International Water Institute has chosen me for a special Journalists Grant – one of the 5 journalists worldwide to be chosen. The grant helped me to travel to Stockholm and cover the World Water Week – an event that brought together hundreds of scientists, academics, activists and policy makers from across the world, working on water.

One of the most memorable moments during this event came when I interviewed Rajendra Singh – Indian water activists and laureate the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize.

The same month I also walked along the shore of Krishna – one of India’s biggest rivers, meeting women who took up the challenge of stopping unauthorized and unaccounted for sand mining –a multi-million dollar business, known as “sand mafia”.  Here is the link to their story "Shifting Sands: How Rural Women in India Took Mining into their Own Hands".


 Around the World in 50 Voices

In September, Kirthi Jayakumar – an Indian author, artist and gender activists published her book “Around the World in 50 Voices” – which celebrated the endeavors of 50 women change makers from around the world. I was honored to be one of them. The book is available on Amazon for you!  

 Singapore - Winning the Asian Environmental Journalism Award for the 3rd Consecutive time

It was such a joy to hold the prestigious trophy of the Asian Environmental Journalism Award for a 3rd straight time. This time I won the award for my blogs. It gives me immense pleasure to think that my blog has been judged as the best environmental blog in Asia for a 2nd straight year. 

Also in October, I was in Vidarbha – one of India’s most water-stressed regions where hundreds of thousands of farmers have killed themselves over repeated crop failures and unpaid debt. Here, I saw how a city of a hundred thousand people came together to solve their drinking water challenge. Read here their amazing story "In India's dry regions, crowd-funding comes to a lake's rescue".

Nepal - moderating for the UN and reporting malnutrition in remote tribal villages

In November I was Kathmandu, moderating a panel discussionon sanitation and gender at the 3rd Evaluation Conclave which focused on evaluation of Sustainable Development Goals. The session, organized Water and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) – a Geneva-based UN agency, discussed how to better evaluate sanitation in the SDG era.

In November, I also traveled to Melghat – a hill region of western India where a tribal community has decided to eradicate acute malnutrition – a health challenge they faced for several decades. Here is my story on this -"Acute Malnutrition: A Community Fights Back"

Reporting the historic Paris climate change conference

In the last month of the year, the world came together in Paris, France, more determined than ever to stop climate change. They made history on December 12, by agreeing to global warming within 2 degree Celsius. As an environmental journalist, witnessing this was an extremely emotional moment. I wrote several stories from Paris, looking at the conference through a gender lens. You can read them on Inter Press Service and Thomson Reuters Foundation.

And during December, I was thrilled and honored to be featured in this article on Internews. I was also equally honored to be interviewed by the Women News Network.

And then, just like that, the year was over! Here comes 2016. See you there!

Saturday, December 05, 2015

COP21 : What can it do for Rina - a climate change refugee?

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

 Rina Dash is an undocumented migrant worker in New Delhi. In 2008, she came here from Satkhira district of Bangladesh. There was a cyclone she says, and it destroyed her home and flooded her little farm she says. It was super cyclone Sidr, I learned - a disaster that killed over 3000 people.

After the flood water went down, nothing could be grown on the far, says Rina. So, her husband suggested that they migrate to New Delhi . 

Why Delhi? "Because we heard thee was plenty of jobs."
But when they came here, her husband found a job of a rickshaw puller. Rina, when I met her, was a janitor. She was paid as  a daily wager. They live in a juggi - a shack made of tarpaulin sheet.

Memories of a climate refugee: Rina shows the photos of her relatives who died in the cyclone. She requested me not to show her face as this could lead to her deportation as an illegal migrant
Across New Delhi, there are thousands of  undocumented migrant workers like Rina

Thursday, December 03, 2015

A ray hope for Neha at COP21

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

 A very interesting development took place on the 3rd day of COP21: the World Bank Group announced that it would make a  US$500 million investment to support one of India's groundwater program.  India, we must remember, is the world’s largest consumer of groundwater.

The announcement made me think of Neha - the little girl in the picture - a 6th grade school student who spends several hours out of school, drawing water for the family everyday from a small pond. The quality of water - as you can see - is horrible.
A muddy pond - the main source of water for Neha

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

COP21: Can it help a HIV Positive Bimla?

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

It's 2nd day of COP21. It's also World AIDS Day.  Let me bring you the story of Bimla - a young woman from Machalipatnam - a coastal town in southern India. Barely 25 year old, Bimla is a widow and lives with HIV.

What is the connection between  Bimla and COP21 or Climate Change? To understand that, you need to hear how Bimla got the virus. She was infected by her husband - a farmer who lost his farm to a cyclone in 2010 ( That cyclone - cyclone Laila, was actually one of the 60 cyclones that their state has seen in past 4 decades),

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?

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.