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 grain mash left over from brewing and distilling process.  And last but not least, the dessert - a custard - was made from outer shell of cocoa bean and the dried skin - waste materials from the coffee makers.

As I read these details, I was shocked and amazed at the same time. A series of images passed before my eyes: some of world's most powerful - and resourceful - people, who could (and usually do) have the world's finest food ever, having food made from trash and scraps. And why did they do it? To drive home the point: food waste creates more hunger, more poverty and ultimately, contributes to climate change and each one of us can do something to stop this.

This is the most courageous and loudest anti-food waste statement I have ever heard. I am a bit curious though of what kind conversation happened at that lunch.

Did they just talk the world's problems, or were there also smiles as the dishes were served?

Did any of them crack a joke and did others  respond in laud laughter?

Maybe yes, or, maybe not. But here is another campaign against food waste from the world's richest city (which also has a very high rate of daily food waste) that will definitely make you smile. It's a 2014 video made by the Singapore Environmental Council  which packs a serious message with a punch of humor.

 The video may very well have been made for Singaporeans , but it has relevance across the world because food waste is happening in all countries and communities.

(Don't believe me? Just look around your own family members and friends at lunch/dinner and see how many ACTUALLY finish their food? ).

Food waste is an environmental problem, but it is rooted in our own behavior.  So, if this problem has to solve, we have to change. That's the tough part.

The good news is,  the writing on the wall is getting bolder and bigger : food waste is NOT cool, but stopping it certainly is.

So, lets be cool!  Lets leave that plate of food clean. And, as the leaders are saying, lets rethink and reuse! Maybe throw a fun Sunday lunch Ban ki Moon style. That's going to be super cool too!

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.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Toilets: teaching is better than talking!

Sometime in April, I met Roopa, an extraordinary young woman, in a village called Nagenhalli in south-west India. She was smart, friendly, warm and very pretty. But what made me call her extraordinary is this: the woman had built a toilet, all by herself.

Roopa's toilet
Now, before I tell you how she built the toilet, let me share the 'why':

Roopa is a Dalit and her mother is a former temple sex slave. All the men from her village wanted Roopa to also become a sex slave and, as she reached puberty, they began to look at her with lust. So, one day Roopa's mother ran away to another village miles away from her  own, taking along her 6 children.

But in their new village, women and girls were often sexually harassed and assaulted by men from
'higher castes'. Most of these assaults took place when girls and women went to relieve themselves in the open.