Thursday, October 17, 2019

My City My Responsibility - Safety measures during floods!!!

Dear All, 

Meetup in Kimaya
Pune has been flooding like never before, one of the major reasons is haphazard concretization happening around without the cognizance of the existing water channels and the network. Thus leaving no place but the roads and our apartments/societies for the rainwater to venture and find its pathway.

Nevertheless, a lot has been said on this, leaving us with the ONLY option as to WHAT we are supposed to do in such a situation in order to save ourselves???

As a matter of concern, we at Samuchit Enviro Tech, LAYA and INECC conducted our monthly session titled #ChallengingThanos-Submerging Cities for brainstorming on ACTIONS that we as individuals should undertake as part of the basic disaster preparedness or measures in such situations.

We conducted the session in an open cafe Kimaya in Kothrud, though it was noisy and a bit uncomfortable to brainstorm, I feel we managed it quite well. We conducted our Mentimeter (click here for mentimeter result) session to collate a list of BASIC measures we can take as individuals during floods from a bunch of 13 people. Below is the list for your reference. Note that you too can also add to the list either as a comment or message.  

1. First things first, be alert. If possible be home or wherever you are, avoid any travel if the weather forecast alerts heavy rainfall. We have to start trusting our forecasting systems like IMD, local news, even google weather app is useful to get an idea on the weather. Call your near and dear ones and make them aware and tell them to stay where they are if they are rushing to come home.

2. Nowadays we all prefer to have cashless transactions, however having some cash is a must during difficult times at home as well as in person. In case of floods especially, the first thing that gets hampered is electricity and then online network gets jammed. in such times your mobiles may also not work, so its crucial to have some cash and food handy and follow the first point. 

3. In order to use our smart phones ''smartly'', ensure phone battery is charged and phones are updated with google maps and other related social media apps. We all use Whats app and Facebook these apps can be used efficiently to inform each other about current conditions around you. These are one of the best handy mode of communication available with all of us. Important point to be noted, a lot of fake/old news also gets circulated sometimes, so instead of panicking or blindly forwarding such posts always ask for authentication of such news.

4. In case if you are caught in any critical situation, make sure you save yourself first, only if you are fine you can help others. So securing yourself should be the priority.

Following is a list of precautions to be taken in order to cope with the ill effects of urbanization. 

1. While buying a house, check if its not near or over a river or a canal or a stream. RiverView homes may not be so appealing if the river drains into your homes. Don't fall for such real estate marketing gimmicks. The rivers/riverbeds, canals and streams are the natural drainage systems, these need to be free from obstructions in any case. Any kind of construction of concreting ON or NEAR such areas is ultimately going to affect the person who resides near these areas.

2. Our societies should have disaster prepardness plan and appropriate equipment, emergency/first aid kit, emergency contact numbers and should conduct mock drills on regular intervals. We as a family and individual should be aware of these activities and if these are not present we need to ask for them and get it.  

3. Keeping oneself FIT is a crucial factor often neglected due to time constraint. Regular exercising keeps one active and alert during crisis. Make sure you do something to keep yourself fit. Swimming is a life saving skill now, we need to be equipped with it. 

4. Stock at least 7 days of food and cash in your homes at any time. You never know when you might need it. 

5. Following sustainable practices like growing your own food or having a backyard vegetable garden, harvesting rainwater, using household biogas or steam cookers, using renewable source of energy like solar heating and lighting systems turns out to be not only sustainable but are best rescue options when there's no electricity and food.

Climate Change is happening and is real believe it or not. Haphazard urbanization is accelerating its impacts and its you, me and our families who are vulnerable to these impacts. Its high time we start taking action for our survival. Its time we start asking for a climate adaptive, resilient and mitigation focused urban planning.  

Any comments are welcome!!!

Pournima Agarkar.

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Thursday, October 3, 2019

My City My Responsibility - Sustainability and Climate Action week 2019

Dear All,

I am back! Last week we observed the most happening week of 2019 from Climate Action and Sustainability perspective. I am glad that we could contribute to the Climate Week NYC 2019  and UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) Action for the People and the Planet through our local initiatives in our capacity and reach. Sharing a quick list of activities we conducted in the last week. 

List of Activities

Since the beginning of the week, we offered discounts on all our products as a part of promoting climate friendly or low carbon lifestyle. Also during the entire week, Dr Karve daily posted some content on climate change, its impacts and solutions. Check out the video for a compilation of all the posters in this link

Every month we conduct the #ChallengingThanos workshop where Thanos the most powerful villain of the super hyped Avengers-Endgame movie depicts the face of the climate crisis which is inevitable. The name literally means #ChallengingClimateChange and the workshop focuses on understanding our day to day issues like pollution, traffic congestion, floods, water crisis etc and linking it to the big picture i.e Climate change and Sustainability, in the city's context. Due to heavy rains affecting all our cities and considering the severity of Floods, we conducted a workshop titled #ChallengingThanos-Floods in Pune, at Yolkshire Aundh in order to talk about floods and the underlying man-made impacts and above all its implications due to the changing climate. We had planned this on Saturday, assuming that the Climate Strike and Climate March will happen on Friday, but for some reason, the Climate March in Pune was held on Saturday, and clashed with our schedule.

Interactive session on ChallengingThanos!

However, I was glad that there was at least ONE person who felt the need to know about Floods and actually attended our workshop. Our strategy has always been to undertake the workshop even if there is just one participant, the show must RUN in any case. We also had a special invitee for the workshop, so between the four of us, we had great discussions on the different stresses our water bodies are undergoing due to so called 'development', deficiencies in dam management, illegal constructions, encroachments, governance issues, religious practices and above all Climate Change. The exciting part of this workshop was a quick activity called as Ecosystems puzzle. The Ecosystems puzzle is an interesting concept in order to learn and understand how we have impacted the Earth's ecosystems. This has been designed and created by Isha Vywahare who attended our Climate Friendly Lifestyle workshop last month, and was our special invitee. Overall our workshop went quite well!

Please note that last week WE faced the worst ever floods in Pune for the first time after the Panshet dam mishap in 1960's. A lot of property and life was lost. In view of the seriousness of the issue, and by popular demand, we will be conducting another #ChallengingThanos event on the same topic, on 12th October Saturday. This time our focus will be more on how to adapt and build resilience in the face of this new threat. For more information you can comment on the blog or email on 

We were approached by the International Institute of Hospitality Management (IIHM), Vimannagar as they were celebrating the Sustainability 2020 week as part of Action for SDGs theme,  titled Paryatan Parv since they are into Hotel and Hospitality industry. I was glad to know that the Hospitality management industry is going all sustainable. It looks like a lot of efforts are underway to meet the SDG 2030 goals and that is a great beginning!

@IIHM, Vimannagar  
I conducted our Climate Friendly Lifestyle workshop for the students by showing Dr Karve's TEDx Talk and going over our Personal Carbon Footprint Calculator Webapp. The students calculated their footprint and we discussed how to go Low carbon, which is the first step towards Sustainability. There were around 50 plus students and they were aware of the huge carbon footprint the Hospitality industry causes. 

Wordcloud by students
Our next session was a 'Climate Katta' in Bhavans College, Andheri, Mumbai. Dr Priyadarshini Karve had studied there for a couple of years, so it was a special joy for her, to conduct a session on Climate Change in her alma mater during the Climate Week 2019. The session was organised by the Marathi department's coordinator Prof. Jyoti Malandkar for the students of 11th and 12th class. There were around 60 students and all were really curious to know about climate change and keen on action! Dr Karve spoke about the science of Climate change and its impacts in global and Indian context, as well as the possible solutions. Myron Mendes, the communications Manager at INECC spoke about the Climate Strike happening globally, with reference to Greta Thunberg and how the students can be part of the Strike in their own capacity. The students were then divided into groups and asked to present their 'take' on climate change in the light of all that they had heard, in the form of a skit with posters. The students were all excited to be part of this global movement, and came up with some interesting presentations in the short time that was available to them. I conducted our usual mentimeter activity in order to see what these young minds would demand the government in order to address Climate change. Sharing some pictures of the session.

Dr P Karve and Myron Mendes addressing the students at Bhavans!

Students preparing for the skits


The students were so inspired by the workshop that under the guidance of Prof Malandkar they also undertook a rally in their college on the subsequent Friday to join the #FridaysforFuture initiative!

Rally at Bhavans College as part of #FridaysforFuture 

Next we conducted a session on Climate Friendly Lifestyle workshop for our INECC members, to showcase our approach to climate change education. This triggered a lot of discussions on how the Carbon Footprint Calculator webapp can be used by various members as a part of their own public outreach. 

with INECC members

Last but not the least, as part of the SDGs action and Paryatan Parv by IIHM, Vimannagar there was a corporate seminar on Sustainability 2020 where I got an opportunity to present our work on envisioning Pune as a Sustainably SMART city by 2030 and the Citizen Charter for Sustainable Pune in the panel discussion. Other panel members included the DGM-MTDC Mr. Chandrashekar Jaiswal, Environment Officer, Pune Municipal Corporation Mr. Mangesh Dighe, HR Director Sheraton representing the Marriot group Mr. Viral Jesani and Deputy GM of Radisson Mr.Vivek Joshi. Each panel member spoke about their work and its relevance to Sustainability. Glad to know that Sustainability is being imbibed in the corporate sector and we could share our work with them. The attendees of this seminar included parents of the IIHM students, ex-army officials, teachers etc. I am glad that we could reach varied sections of society through this seminar.
@IIHM Corporate Seminar on Sustainability 2020

This was thus a very fruitful and enriching week for us. A BIG thank you to everyone for being part of this initiative with us.

However knowing the fact that some parts of Pune were worst hit by the rains on the 25th September, its high time WE as citizens get SMART and demand for an ecologically sensitive development instead of haphazard development. Stay tuned for our upcoming session on the same! 

Pournima Agarkar. 

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Friday, September 13, 2019

INECC Talks by Ajita Tiwari: Towards Raising Regional Climate Ambition in the Asia Pacific - Where is the race?

I had the opportunity to participate at The Asia Pacific Climate Week ( APCW) 2019 which was designed to advance regional climate action. This was aimed to support the implementation of Asia Pacific countries Nationally Determined contributions ( NDCS) under the Paris Agreement ( PA) on Climate change and action to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals ( SDGs). APCW was envisioned as a stepping stone to the 2019 “Climate Action Summit in New York- A race we can win, A race we must win” .

This UNFCCC led conference was timed when climate emergency is upon us, at a time where countries in the Asia Pacifc region face new climate realities, where surprise is the new normal, hazards are less predictable, exposure is growing and vulnerability is compounding. The region has been battered by disasters and extreme events; vulnerability is growing and is almost double in the region, with rising economic losses. The 2019 Asia Pacific Disaster report shows that the region is at risk and is running out of time. It also points out that climate risks account for 85% of the region’s losses.

The deliberations at APCW were organized across nine themes including Raising ambition and NDC implementation, energy and industry transition, nature based solutions, infrastructure, cities and local action including building and transport and climate finance. Most of the session were “closed” ( read ‘by invitation only’), and our engagement therefore was limited to the platforms of the ‘Action Hub’ , where my colleague, Siddharth D’Souza presented on a waste to energy project; the Knowledge Corner, which served as an excellent space for sharing and networking. The other learning and updating space was from the side events and a few plenaries.

Ajita Tiwari (left) and Nafisa D'Souza (right) at the Knowledge Corner
Siddharth D'Souza presenting at the Action Hub

In this blog I share a few thoughts that emerged while attending a few sessions. The discussion on cities interested me as we ourselves are engaged with the discourse on ‘sustainably smart cities’ in India along with emerging discussions on technology and reflections on adaptation and resilience.

The City Paradigm: 

With diverse cities like Beijing, Mumbai, Dhaka and Osaka in the region the discussions highlighted the challenges for a low carbon, inclusive and just transition in the context of growing socio economic pressures (continuous inflow of migrants) and frequent disasters. While it was understood that the cities are gearing up for action and city mayors are motivated to take climate actions, the understanding of cities from the perspective of ‘limits to growth’ was challenged. In the current paradigm where cities are seen in isolation with its immediate peri urban and rural communities, forces us to think as to what extent and how long can the city take the pressure? Unless, of course we change the paradigm of looking at cities. The need to look at the urban, peri urban – rural interlinkages and understand interactions of energy, food- water- manpower, resources etc. While theoretically this makes perfect sense, the challenges lies in its operationalization, i.e governance. In the current paradigm with sharply defined jurisdiction of cities and villages, blurring of jurisdiction is not easy, in the way we operate. For the urban – peri urban – rural – tribal continuum, the key is overhauling the governance: defining the limits to growth of the city, recalibrating the resource pool, the infrastructure need, considering new skills and capacities, building in effective vertical integration, bringing in new partnerships and draw the low carbon city development plan benefitting all. While this looks to be daunting and time consuming, a thought that immediately comes to mind is that is city retrofitting even possible - A retrofit, that is not only disaster proof, low carbon, resilient but also promises development for all? 

Resilience , Inclusion and Empowerment : Empower the poor with big data and technologies 

My understanding of technologies so far has been centered around decentralized community based low carbon interventions which meets peoples’ needs  in climate friendly ways. However, the emerging understanding of technology at the APCW certainly overwhelmed me. It pointed towards fast paced, giant leaps that technology was making for addressing the climate crisis. Technological innovations like the Big data, digital identity systems, risk analytics and geo spatial data seemingly offers unprecedented promise to reduce barriers in information flow to include and empower the community at risk. While we need to catch up more on this aspect, the need to empower ourselves first to be then able to empower the community seems like the way forward.

Standee highlighting emerging technologies to address climate change  
(outside conference room 2, ESCAP, Bangkok)

Science Based Adaptation: It’s about communities… 

A lot of discussions centered around riskscapes and the need to invest in resilience to outpace risks, to develop risk informed system based approaches for scientific adaptation planning and decision making. These typically include 
i. Understanding local realities: What kind of risks are the communities facing? 
ii. Understanding and defining tipping points within the community and ecosystem context,
iii. Understanding slow onset of events in micro climate of our areas of operation while also understanding impact on ecosystem services. 

However, at the very core lies the question of how do we translate this science into adaptive and resilient solutions? Solutions, that mould communities into green and resilient communities. Financial institutions seem to have come to the rescue by demanding for “bankable" adaptation projects. The idea of “bankability" stumps us, those of us who work with the communities given the fact that one has to prove the bankability of adaptive projects for communities who have been the least contributors to the climate crisis. The first generation adaptive responses just cannot afford not be resilient enough because time is running out and economics fail us in the long run. The idea of bankability needs a serious rethinking in contexts where community based adaptive project is crucial for their very survival.

The issue of resilience building becomes even more tricky in a situation which is ever dynamic, and where science is bringing in new data. New data and information requires new changes to design adaptation actions, and new adjustments to be made. Adjusting very fast to the evolving changes is the key to thrive but the moot question is how do we go about doing this? Are our systems equipped enough to respond to this dynamism? therefore how do we institutionalise this dynamic nature in the government decision making systems?

Can we consider context specific climate finance instruments ( some refer to this as blended finance at the provincial level) to better serve and respond to the dynamic adaptation contexts of the communities?

The recommendations from the APCW is expected to feed into the climate Action summit. The Climate Action summit tagline is “A race we can win". At the APCW at least the ‘race’ was certainly not evident with almost no concrete conclusions on raising ambition in NDCs even by high emitting countries in the region. I would rather say that the race should at least begin, if we are looking to meet the urgent need to address climate change, foster resilience, achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, and meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

We hope the passionately expressed words of the youth participants at the APCW would drive ambition and trigger action by the countries before it is too late! 

Ajita Tiwari Padhi
National Facilitator,
Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC)
c/o INECC Secretariat
Laya Resource Center
Plot No. 110, Yendada,
Near Senora Beach Resorts,

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

MUSINGS FROM PRIYADARSHINI KARVE: One and Only Solution to Climate Change?

Image result for indian food plate

I have absolutely no problem with people wanting to go vegan or whatever other food preferences they want for themselves, based on any moral, ethical or whatever reasons of their own. 

I have serious concerns about promoting 'veganism'  (or any single lifestyle change for that matter) as THE ULTIMATE and UNIVERSAL solution of climate change. 

The earth and its atmosphere is a complex system - both scientifically and socio-economically. Climate change is a complex problem - both scientifically and socio-economically. Every human culture is playing a different role in this complexity, some aspects of which are positive and some are negative. Recognition of climate change as a universal problem to be tackled by everyone is one thing. Demanding that everyone should address the problem using the same and single strategy is an entirely different thing. We need an array of actions to tackle this complex problem. Moderation in access to all sorts of resources, including food, is indeed a common thread in most solutions, but the specifics of that moderation required of different cultures will obviously have to be different.

We generally develop simplified models to understand the complex geological-biological world around us. Often analysis of data based on simplified models suggests one thing, but reality is much more complex. Total abstinence and bans have never solved any social or environmental problem in the past. On the other hand, there are many instances of unexpected disasters caused by such measures. From that perspective too, I have serious reservations against any measure that talks about total exclusion of something or total ban on anything. 

There is also another aspect to this. Even in the Western world, where veganism and curbs on industrial agriculture (which includes animal husbandry) will indeed have a significant positive impact in terms of climate change, I think that the fashion of projecting veganism as THE ultimate climate change solution has potentially dangerous consequences. It is interesting that most vocal supporters of veganism in the West are the rich and famous who otherwise live a very energy intensive lifestyle. So are they going vegan to eliminate the feeling of guilt about their mansions and yachts and private jets? Will going vegan then justify ramping up everyone's personal use of fossil energy?

I repeat, the same problem exists with any single action being projected as the ONE and ONLY solution of climate change. For example, going totally off fossil fuelled transport can be a personal choice, but it becomes problematic if that is recommended as the one and only prescription for the entire world to address the problem of climate change! Will it then be ok if I went everywhere on a bicycle but lived in an airconditioned mansion and ate nothing but meat??

It is admirable and good to feel passionate about a cause and to promote it with enthusiasm. However, I sincerely request my vegan friends to not fall into the trap of finding 'the single ultimate truth'! Truth is always relative and comes in hundred shades of grey! Same is the case with solutions to climate change. 

Priyadarshini Karve
Samuchit Enviro Tech


Samuchit Enviro Tech. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

My City My Responsibility - Sustainable initiatives in and around Pune Part II

Dear All,

Poster  of the event at Kopargaon

Under the Yuvadrishti initiative of our partner NGO Laya, we published the Handbook on Carbon Neutral Campus in Pune in June 2019, as our collaborative initiative under Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC). Post this event, I was expecting that Pune being the education hub with all the education institutes will be taking up this challenge in order to go low carbon. But before any Pune based colleges, I received a call from Sanjivani Group of Institutes, Kopargaon for understanding the concept on Carbon neutral campuses since they intended to go low carbon as a campus. I was amazed that an institute situated in a rural setup has asked us to come all the way from Pune, Dr Karve too agreed and we were all set to go to Kopargaon.

Dr Priyadarshini Karve
With the flood situatuion happening in and around Maharashtra, we had to postpone our plans, nevertheless the management was keen on undertaking the session. Kapil Pawar the coordinator of the event was very helpful and efficient in all the planning. Finally we could undertake a session on Carbon Neutral Campus in the institute on the 6th August 2019 and it was a great learning experience for them as well as for us.

The day was structured to start with an introductory session on Climate Change for all the students, faculty members and the guests, followed by a more technical session to dive into the methodology of making campuses carbon neutral specifically for the faculty members. There were around 50 plus students and 20 faculty members. The introductory session was undertaken by Dr Priyadarshini Karve, where she spoke about climate change basics and its impacts and how India as a country is a victim as well as a contributor to the crisis! The best part was a lot of students were curious and interested to know more about climate change. After the session, a few students requested to stay for the next session as well.

The response was indeed good, the next session was supposed to be limited to faculty only but we had around 30 students as well. This session dealt with understanding the basics of carbon accounting and how to use the Carbon Neutral Campus Handbook. Then I conducted a Mentimeter poll to get an idea as to how many people would like to get into the accounting process and make their campus carbon neutral and I am glad we received an honest response. See the image below for the responses.

Mentimeter responses
We concluded the session well in time and could take a quick tour of the campus as well. We met the managing trustee Shri. Amit Kolhe,  a visionary who realized that its the educational institutions that should act as a role model for the students and the community in order to create a better society. In spite of his busy schedule, he found time to interact with us, and also sit in on the session for a while.  Under his able leadership, the Institutes have undertaken several initiatives that lead them to sustainability and low carbon.

The campus has an installation of a roof top solar system of 500 kwp that not only supplies solar energy to the entire campus but the surplus is supplied to the grid as well. I wondered how many academic institutions in the SMART city Pune have shown this level of commitment to renewable energy! 

Kopargaon being an arid zone, the institute is ensuring that all the available water and wastewater is used efficiently. For the same they are reusing and recycling the water through innovative ways on the campus itself. We were informed that while constructing the buildings and making the internal roads, extra care was taken to cause the least harm to the existing trees. All the internal roads are nicely shaded by large trees, mostly indigenous species. There has been sustained plantations being carried out by successive batches of students to create this oasis of green in an otherwise dry location. However we saw monoculture plantation of neem trees, so we suggested to plant a variety of species instead of single species which was well accepted by them. Every single appropriate step taken towards sustainability has a long term effective impact. 

Glimpses of the event

Special thanks to Kapil Pawar and Principal Dr Mirikar for making all the arrangements for us. Also glad to meet Ganesh Jorvekar for giving us the quick tour and explaining the various initiatives happening in the campus, like the Sustainability cell under which all such activities are undertaken. 

As I mentioned earlier I have been experiencing a sustainability immersive phase and I am amazed to learn about such initiatives happening around me.

Pournima Agarkar. 

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Friday, August 23, 2019

My City My Responsibility - Sustainable initiatives in and around Pune Part I

Dear All, 

Sustainable Initiatives in Borvha

As I mentioned in my last blog on Sustainable Bhuj, it was a delight to see all the sustainable initiatives happening around us, however after returning, it was overwhelming to see more of such initiatives happening around Pune as well. I feel like I am immersed in Sustainability and would like to share my experience on the same.

Under our initiative on Showcasing Sustainable Practices, Vaayu Mitra collaborated with us once again for sharing the story of Borvha village. This village won third prize at the State level under the Paani foundation's Water Cup initiative this year, while last year they bagged the first prize at the Block level. They were in Pune for the award ceremony and Vaayu Mitra proposed to tap them to give us the insights on their initiatives and the motivation that led them here. 

Located in the Washim district, Mangrulpir block, Borvha is tiny hamlet having 350 people that reduced to half due to migration for work. Inspite of having a river surrounding the village on three sides, the village depended on water tankers during summers. This led to the anxiousness among the villagers and led to a movement "we have to solve our own problem". They enrolled in the Paani Foundation movement and then there was no looking back. It was indeed inspiring to listen to Santosh Walke, the innovator and the visionary in the village who understood that cities like Pune are facing the problem of inmigration from villages while villages are short of people thus creating an unsustainability trap. So why not make villages self sufficient and create better economic opportunities so that migration from villages to cities would reduce. I was astonished to hear this from a villager, who impressed me with his down to earth attitude and sense of responsibility to make his village Sustainable by 2022. 

Several initiatives undertaken in the village include efficient management of water, manpower, food and land through watershed management and energy and waste management through the use of biogas plant installed by Vaayu-Mitra. These initiatives are enabling them to go LPG free, mosquito free, encroachment free and defecation free village.  

Apart from these, innovative ideas to eradicate social taboos like female infanticide or dowry, all villagers decided to celebrate every girl's birth and contribute for her wedding expenses complying the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme. Concept of community farming is being practiced here that enabled community participation. Initiatives for women empowerment, bachat bank and water cup training center enabled income generation opportunities for youth. They are also exploring the drone technology etc and has plans for sustainable tourism as well.

So if you are looking for investing in a property in a rural location, you should definitely check out this place!!!

I feel the village is a good example that complies with most of the SDG goals that need to be accomplished by 2030.

Glimpses of the session in Indradhanushya hall

Overall a great experience and lots of learnings from a tiny village showcasing applied sustainability. I am grateful to Vaayu Mitra and all the Borvha villagers for taking time out for us and giving us the insights into their amazing work. 

In the next blog I will be writing about Sustainable initiatives in an educational institute in a small rural town, where we got the opportunity to talk about Carbon Neutrality. However when we saw the campus, we felt that with all the initiatives they have undertaken already on their campus, they may already be Carbon Neutral or even Carbon Negative. So stay tuned!!!!

Pournima Agarkar. 

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

My City My Responsibility - Can Pune Smartly Tackle the Floods!!!

Dear All, 

There's too much of news flooding about areas around us drowning into water, bridges closed due to water discharge from the dams, shifting of informal settlements near low lying areas to safe areas, parking areas of many housing societies flooded since they are built in the flood zones etc.. Yet I thought of penning down about the same issues, since last year around the same time, Kerala faced terrible floods. I remember writing that Pune is not far from such a situation. So here WE are... if the rains continue with the same pace or heavier we are likely to face terrible floods, I hope not too. However, I would like to ask the same question again as I did last year... Are we really prepared for any such disaster???

No, I don't think so.. to start with I feel we don't even have a common portal where we can get all the required information about areas flooded, total rains that will occur in this week, precautions to be taken in such situations, emergency contact nos, relief centers etc etc...Everyone just forwards messages from #Whatsapp or #Twitter randomly flooding the phones with loads of information but not really sure about the authenticity of the information. This creates more panic rather than precaution. Whatever measures are being taken are simply reactive instead of being proactive. We cannot be proactive because there is no appropriate infrastructure set that will inform us about the rains well in advance so that we can equip ourselves accordingly.

PC: Pune mirror news on VMD screen
However, we do have some systems installed in the SMART city under the SMART city mission by the Pune Smart City Development Corporation as SMART elements which I think is great!!! But these systems are not equipped or programmed or not functioning in order to help us in such situations. For instance, we have the smart screens known as Variable Message Display (VMD) screens that mostly show us the time taken to travel from one place to another just like google maps. Yes we need real time traffic information, but what about other information that these screens should display like key notices about roads closed, etc., in such situations... There are other elements as well such as the emergency call box, flood sensors, public address systems etc... You can find information about these systems here

So, why can't these screens display messages of areas ahead that are flooded or safe for travel. They can also display information regarding safety measures to be taken, area specific rain forecasts, display emergency numbers or locations of relief centers based on the situation in that particular area. I think these initiatives will be SMART only when they enable us to sustain in difficult situations. 

A recent news on VMD was published in Pune mirror, it seems no action has been undertaken after this news as well.

I think we as citizens should raise our voice for our safety now. I would like to invite suggestions from all of you as to what can be done in order to save Pune from this grave situation. What all measures we as citizens should take now in order to keep Pune from drowning!!! 

Please write back to us on OR give your comments in this blog OR write to us on our Facebook page.

Pournima Agarkar.

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Friday, August 2, 2019

My City My Responsibility - Quest for Sustainability in Bhuj

Dear All, 

Through our project work on Sustainably Smart Pune 2030 and Citizens Charter & Action Agenda for Sustainable 2030 me and Dr Karve were invited to attend a consultation in Bhuj on Sustainability. This consultation was organized jointly by The Department of Earth and Environmental Science, Kachchh University and Homes in the City  (HIC) a network of CSO, NGOs and Citizens' Collective that work towards decentralized and participatory governance, equity and conservation of ecology, slum redevelopment, participatory ground water management and waste management. In this blog I would like to share my experience and learnings from the people of Bhuj.

4.30 am on a highway near Bhuj
In order to reduce our work related carbon emissions we thought of travelling by a train to Bhuj this time. However we had to opt for a flight from Pune to Ahmedabad as the connections available were weird. So we booked a train from Ahmedabad to Bhuj and also for our return journey to Pune. We were all excited to go by train after a long time. However, our excitement was shattered as our flight from Pune to Ahmedabad got delayed and we had to cancel our ongoing train as well. HIC had to book a cab at the last moment for us from Ahmedabad to Bhuj and thus we landed in an adventurous night ride. Adventurous as the driver was super sleepy and needed to sleep for an hour or so but he happened to sleep from 2.30 am to 4 am. He simply parked the cab aside near a random Dhaba on the highway mid of the night. This was scary as well as exciting, we were sleepy but couldn't sleep. I still tried to get a nap but Dr Karve was wide awake. I had to wake the driver sternly but then he rushed us to the hotel soon. 

We had a meeting with the coordinator of this consultation Aseem Mishra later that day post lunch. Our pick up was arranged in a Chaggada (big broad rickshaw just like our six seater) and I was amazed to see a woman driving this rickshaw. We got to know that Bhuj has got two women rickshaw drivers named Asha Waghela and Chandni Parmar. Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KVMS) has been doing some great work in empowering women in the city through various such initiatives.

Aseem accompanied us to a solid waste management facility, where we could see wastes was being segregated in to different categories by the migrant rag pickers in an area. However, we saw a lot of biomedical wastes lying around due to a hospital nearby. Mostly it was discarded injection syringes and plastic tubes, since it was plastic it was also collected by the rag pickers without realizing its harmful effects, we even saw their children playing bare footed near the facility. Knowledge about biomedical wastes and overall hygiene is still lacking among the people. however its the hospitals that need to ensure that no waste from their premises mixes with the local solid waste system. In general if we see Bhuj seems to have a major waste management issue. The entire city looked full of rubble and construction wastes lying around. This is sad as well as alarming!!!

The same day we visited Khamir a place where I tried my hand at weaving upcycled plastic mats. It was a fun experience learning to weave on a traditional hand loom under the guidance of a local woman weaver. Khamir is place where you can get a variety of goods made from leather, upcycled plastic, cotton, wool, recycled metal etc. that reflects the culture and heritage of Kutch. A great place for outsiders to buy souvenirs from Kachchh!!!

Later we visited the Ramkrishna Trust near Kukma a place where we could see sustainable practices from an organic farm, a big biogas plant, rainwater harvesting system, solar cooker, gravity grade separater, cottages (huts) made out of eco friendly materials to metal drums recycled to make seating, traditional roofing made out of woven rice straw etc. However, the amply available cow dung that is used in various preparations for health emphasizing the importance of cow dung and urine, reflected pseudo scientific analysis to an extent commented Dr. Karve. I agree with her as well, using cow dung in the form of a small chip and pasting it onto our mobiles to help us being unaffected by harmful radiations was something serious marketing gimmick! But people do fall for such stuff.

From L to R: Waste management facility, us in Khamir and Biogas plant in Ramkrishna Trust
Now I would like to give just a few glimpses of the two day consultation.

The first day of our consultation was held in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science of Kachchh University's SMART Classroom. Yes the SMART Classroom was indeed a hi-tech classroom equipped with white board enabled projector screen that was touch sensitive, a 360 degree camera and decent audio system. Not yet seen any such thing in Pune's academic institutions in spite of being a SMART city.

We were a small group of people for the consultation around 20 of us. I was glad to see a woman as a VC of the Kachchh University in Bhuj. She welcomed us to the vibrant city of Bhuj having diverse cultures and was appreciative of how all like-minded people come together and work towards making Bhuj a Sustainable city.

Aseem Mishra the coordinator of HIC gave a broad background of the city also known as a WALLED city. The city was defended by four gates and the Bhujio Hill however post-earthquake all the walls collapsed and now one can see only the remnants in the old core part of the city. Since then the entire city has expanded three times in terms of area with an increase in population as well. There is no river in the city, however there are several lakes in the city-Hamirsar lake is the largest catchment area. It is an intricate network of lakes, streams, wells that feed the groundwater reserves. There have been no rains in the city since last three years and the Hamirsar lake has gone dry creating severe water crunch in the city. People even said ‘that only when we see water in the Hamirsar lake, the water in our eyes will dry People of Bhuj are completely dependent on ground water reserves for their water needs, however part of the water comes from Narmada dam but less than what is supposed to. The value of WATER and the water systems for a common man in an arid region is something that we can never understand having a continued water supply. Learning about Climate change and Sustainability are far off when you are struggling with day to day water needs. However understanding it will definitely help in adapting to such situations. 

HIC has been working since last ten years in collaboration with other local organisations and running pilots that can be easily implemented in the city on a large scale. The only thing we felt is kind of missing is the lack of reaching out to the citizens that are living in the city. Though the locals in the city are few and the city consists of migrated inhabitants, its time they start contributing for the betterment of the city. The outskirts of the city have haphazard development while the old part of the city shows the remnants of the earthquake even after nineteen years. It seems that the city takes pride in the earthquake in a way and wants to keep the remnants as a mark of the historical event that affected so many lives. But the point is old part of city looks really sad and dry and shattered we couldn't see it closely but didn't even feel like going.

Dr Mrugesh Trivedi, Kachchh Univerity, spoke about the potential for carbon sequestration at industry level, community level and research level. The fact that such studies and discussions are happening from academic purpose is a good news. However they have a long way to go since understanding climate change and its impacts was in itself a challenge.

Dr Himanshu Burte, TISS gave a background on sustainable landscapes, relevance of mapping at different scales. Role of interlinkages and interplays is very crucial and needs to be understood when we need to acheive sustainability was something that he stressed on and we were glad that our study on Sustainably smart Pune is based on some of these concepts.

Dr Priyadarshini Karve, Samuchit Enviro Tech, spoke about our project study, the INECC sustainability index that we have derived and how it is SDG compliant unlike the smart city mission goals for Pune.

Jyoti Awasti and Nakul Sharma, CANSA (Climate Action Network, South Asia) showed the impacts of climate change during 1990 to 2010 in the form of rainfall and cyclones that severely affected the city. Recognition of vulnerable communities and the importance of developing adaptation and resilent strategies for them is the need of the hour specifically in urban areas.

Glimpses of the consultation

After the session several site visits were arranged. The first one was a DEWATS (Decentralised Wastewater System). This is a demonstration plant that picks up some of the water from the city's sewage water flow and treats it before releasing it in a stream. It was set up by a local NGO and has been handed over to the Municipality, in a hope that similar systems would be set up all over the city to clean up the city's sewage water and prevent it contaminating precious fresh water resources. However, nothing has happened so far.

Site visits 
Next we visited the rainwater harvesting system implemented by a bungalow society named Jubilee colony. Since a part of the parking area would get flooded every monsoons, water would infiltrate their bungalows and spoil all furniture, bugged of spending money on costly furniture every year, the residents approached a local NGO and they installed an innovative rainwater harvesting system using the parking space. Installing the system enabled increase in the ground water levels as well which the society realized later. But such innovations are required and will be sustainable if they are managed by communities with the help of minor or little facilitation through local organisations.

Then most interesting part of the site visit was the seeing the owner driven community housing project led by Hunnarshala and HIC through a participatory approach. The people in a particular community were fully satisfied with the interventions made by Hunnarshala a local organisation working for skill development in indigenous technologies. Happiness of owning one's house the way you want is something that is really precious. We could see the happiness, confidence and sense of ownership among all the people in the community. This is a perfect example showcasing successful implementation of government scheme on ground through participatory and integrated approach.

The next day was a kind of a closed group discussion as HIC wanted to build on a framework for further actions. My role was to conduct interactive activities for the group. So we conducted our usual mentimeter based polls and our SDG 11 related brainstorming activity. Based on the results and discussions, it was decided that core strategies for Bhuj should focus on showcasing their incredible work to a larger mass in the city in order to get things moving in the required direction. Also a focus on equity, climate change and environmental issues from a scientific perspective needs to be work on.  
Happy us in the train

Definitely we had great enriching time in Bhuj. Thanks to the team of HIC, especially Aseem Mishra for giving us this opportunity. I hope our inputs will help them freeze a framework for Sustainable and climate friendly Bhuj. 

Finally we could travel by train on our journey back to Pune and of course me and Dr Karve had a great time.

See you all next week....till then stay tuned to this space.

Pournima Agarkar.

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