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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Holi and Environment

In India there is unity and integrity in its immense diversity. Diversity is up to such extent that it is hard to prepare a list of the people belonging to different religion, religious sects, regional languages, traditional practices, food preferences, dresses, dances etc. However, it is a great wonder that an inherent unity and integrity in its strongest form exists in every part of the country that can only be reflected when the people of India celebrate functions or assemble for a genuine cause both during war and for peace. One section of society has sacred regard for the faiths and beliefs of other section of society and cooperate each other during social functions, marriages, religious celebrations, and even during hard times of each other. When unity of India or its integrity among vast diversity is a subject of our talk, we can not leave one of the Hindu festivals named Holi.
The festival of joy and colours
Holi is a festival of joy, unity and colours. It is celebrated in India in Hindu societies since the time immemorial. The early religious texts contain a detailed description of this festival. Different non- Hindu religious and historical texts also have appropriate discussions about this festival. There is also a detailed description of this festival in early religious works such as Jaimini's Purvamimamsa-Sutras and Kathaka-Grhya-Sutras. .”Holi has a detailed description in the ancient Vedas and Puranas such as ‘Narad Purana’ and ‘Bhavishya Purana’. The festival of Holi also finds detailed descriptions in the Jaimini Mimansa. During an excavation, a stone inscription of 300 BC was found at Ramgarh and this stone inscription has mention of ‘Holikotsav’ i.e. the ‘celebrations of Holi’ written on it. This gives logic to the theories of the historian who believe Holi to be a celebration even before the birth of Christ. Other ancient references like the mention of holikotsav in King Harsha’s Ratnavali written during 7th century and the description of holikotsav in the travelogues of Ulbaruni support the fact that Holi is not a nascent celebration in the country”.

Apart from the references in religious and historical texts Holi finds a reference in scriptures also.”Celebrated in northern parts of India, Holi is a festival of joy and colors. On the joyous occasion, people follow the tradition of smearing color onto the faces of their friends and guests, playfully. Holi is one of the principal matters mentioned on a 16th century temple at Hampi, the capital of Vijayanagar (now in Karnataka) which  has a panel sculpted with the joyous scene of Holi celebrations. This painting illustrates a Prince and his Princess standing amidst maids who are waiting with pichkaris to drench the couple in colored water. Another painting on the theme related to Holi, the Vasanta Ragini - spring song or music is found in Ahmednagar in Maharashtra. This 16th century painting depicts a royal couple sitting on a huge swing, and several maidens surrounding them playing music and spraying colors with pichkaris. There are several other illustrations and paintings belonging to medieval India that can be found in the temples and palaces of that era. An interesting painting of Mewar (circa 1755) illustrates the Maharana with his courtiers bestowing gifts and riches on his people while a merry dance is going on. Also, there is water tank filled with colored water in the center of his courtyard. Similarly, a Bundi miniature depicts a king seated on his tusker and some beautiful women showering Gulal (colored powders) on him. These are few of the examples which Holi has been an integral part of the country since ever. It existed here before Christ was born; it continued in the medieval era and is being celebrated in the country till now”.

Origin of the festival

Holi has its origin in Hindu religious texts from “Holika” the sister of Hiranyakashyap a demon- a demon king. Hiranyakashyap wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship only him but to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana or Vishnu. Hiranyakashyap commanded his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. Holika had a boon whereby she could enter fire without any damage on herself. However, she was not aware that the boon worked only when she enters the fire alone. As a result she paid a price for her sinister desires, while Prahlad was saved by the grace of the god for his extreme devotion. The festival, therefore, celebrates the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion. Legend of Lord Krishna is also associated with play with colors as the Lord started the tradition of play with colours by applying colour on his beloved Radha and other gopis. Gradually, the play gained popularity with the people and became a tradition. There are also a few other legends associated with the festival - like the legend of Shiva and Kaamadeva and those of Ogress Dhundhi and Pootana. All depict triumph of good over evil - lending a philosophy to the festival. In some parts of India, especially in Bengal and Orissa, Holi Purnima is also celebrated as the birthday of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (A.D. 1486-1533).

Image :1 - Lord Krishna playing Holi with Gopies

Environmental Significance of Holi

Holi is celebrated at the end of the winter season on the last full moon day of the lunar month Phalgun (February/March), (Phalgun Poornima), which usually falls in the later part of February or March. In 2009, Holi (Dhulandi) was on March 11 and Holika Dahan was on March 10. In 2010, Holi is on February 28 and Holika Dahan was on February 27.

Impacts of using synthetic colours

Earlier, many spring blossoming trees used to offer colours that were extracted and used in celebrating Holi. But now that most of those trees have died out, cut and cleared by human beings, and industrialization has been encouraged to make too much money, synthetic colours have taken their place. Two veteran NGOs of Delhi, the national capital of India – Toxic Link and Vatavaran published a fact sheet in the year 2001 and elaborated harmful effects of synthetic colours used in three forms- paste, dry colours and as water colours. They reported about severe health impacts of synthetic colours in paste form. According to the analysis of these NGOs the black colour was found to contain lead oxide that can result in renal failures. Silver colour with aluminum bromide and red colour with mercury sulphate was found to be carcinogenic. The Persian blue used in blue paste was reported to cause contact dermatitis while the copper sulphate used in making green colour paste was reported to cause allergies of eyes and even blindness.

Image : 2- Colours of Holi

As for dry colours, even the Gulal was found to be toxic as it contained heavy metals that may cause asthma, skin diseases and even blindness. Asbestos and silica used as bases in Gulal are reported to be associated with serious health issues.

As for wet colours, these have been reported to cause skin discolouration and dermatitis as gentian violet is used as colour concentrates in these colours. There is a complete lack of control over the quality and composition of these colours. Usually these colours are sold by vendors who are not at all concerned with their quality etc.

After the publication of the report by these NGOs a number of other social groups too started promoting the use of natural colours in Holi celebrations. Some of these other social groups are - Development Alternatives, Delhi and Kalpavriksh. “The CLEAN India campaign and Society for Child Development, through its Avacayam Cooperative Campaign have both launched campaigns to help children learn to make their own colours for Holi from safer, natural ingredients. Meanwhile, some commercial companies such as the National Botanical Research Institute have begun to market "herbal" dyes, though these are substantially more expensive than the dangerous alternatives. However, it may be noted that many parts of rural India have always resorted to natural colours (and other parts of festivities more than colours) due to availability reasons”.

The traditional Holika Dahan bonfire has been alleged to contribute to deforestation. According to a report about 30.000 bonfires each burning approximately 100 kg of wood are burnt during Holika Dahan. However, it has been observed that most communities burn Arand (Ricinus communis) shrubs along with waste wood during the occasion. Still, in the time of climate change and global warming when release of carbon dioxide and few other gases have been confirmed to contribute this global problem, burning of anything to release gases in the atmosphere should be restricted.

Image :3 - Ricinus communis plant usually placed in the middle of Holi bonfire

Image : 4- Holi bonfire

An evil practice has been accompanying with the Holika Dahan since long and that is – young boys of colonies or villages move during the night collecting wood for Holika and catch valuable wood items of different families- like wooden cot, building wood, furniture etc. In this regard social groups may spread awareness and try to raise the moral standards of these boys.

Drinking of Bhang on the occasion of Holikotsav is very popular. Cannabis sativa is an annual plant in the Cannabinaceae family. It is a herb that has been used throughout recorded history by humans as a source of fiber for its seed oil, as food, as a drug, as medicine, and for spiritual purposes. Each part of the plant is harvested differently, depending on the purpose of its use. However, drinking crude extract of leaves of this plant in heavy quantity is reported to cause impotency, arrhythmia, psychosis, mental disorder, memory loss and even heart attacks.

Image : 5- Cannabis sativa

In the modern age use of cannabis has been replaced by wine and drinking has become very common even in the young and teenagers especially during Holi. Some stupid sellers sell intoxicated wine during these occasions and cause deaths of hundreds of people.

Eating and distributing sweets is a common social practice during Holi celebrations. Some greedy sweet sellers mix cheap and synthetic materials in sweets and endanger the community health during the time of joy and mix serious tragedies in our social life. Such sweet sellers should be caught and punished by law of the country. Some sort of serious awareness about prohibition of liquor must be promoted in our societies but since it is the source of revenue to the government, the government keeps its efforts to the limit of issuing statutory warnings only. However, some Indian states have banned it, and the illegal business in the darkness in those states too has been reported to flourish in a good speed.

The festival of Holi has been reported to be celebrated in many countries of the world including USA, South Africa and U.K.as Indians have migrated everywhere in the world. However, foreign people who like some of the Indian traditions and culture take keen interests and enjoy with Indians in their festivals.

Key Words : Holi, Colours, bonfire, Prahlad, Holika, Synthetic colours, Pastes, Ricinus communis, statutory warning,carcinogenic, allergy

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ozone Layer – Its depletion and consequences

The depletion of ozone layer is one of the Global Issues of environment related to atmosphere and air pollution. But, what is ozone? How is it formed? What are its functions? ...etc., are many questions that need to be answered here. Let us take up these questions one by one.

Ozone is an unstable blue gas having pungent odor. Chemically, it is an allotrope of Oxygen which is an element in the gaseous form. It has three oxygen atoms in its single molecule and in the language of Chemistry; its molecular formula is 03. It is used as a powerful oxidant, bleach, and water purifier. It is also used to treat industrial wastes.

If found in the troposphere; ozone acts as a powerful pollutant. But, when found in the stratosphere, it acts like a friend of the earth because it shields most of the ultra violet radiations and does not allow them to pass on towards the same. In stratosphere, it is found in the form of a dense layer called as the Ozone Layer or the Ozone Belt. Thus, the Ozone Belt in the stratosphere acts like a Protective Umbrella of the earth. Let us see, how this gas is formed in the atmosphere.

Ozone is formed in the stratosphere when oxygen molecules Photo dissociate after absorbing an UV Photon of shorter wavelength(less than 240 nm) to produce two oxygen atoms. 
Ozone is mainly produced from oxygen containing molecules such as Sulphur dioxide, Nitrogen Oxides, etc. also when these molecules are exposed to ultraviolet radiations. In Chemistry, a molecule is the particle of any substance that can remain in a free state. But, what is an atom? Well, an atom is the smallest particle of a substance that can not usually remain in a free condition. Two or more atoms combine to form a molecule. Through the foregoing lines, we came across another term, allotrope. One of the two or more different forms of molecules of an element is called as an allotrope. 

A large number of ozone molecules assemble around the earth to form the Ozone Layer which extends from 13 to 48 km above the earth surface. On an average, it is about 230 Dobson units (DU) in thickness. DU is the unit which measures thickness of the ozone layer. It equals to 0.01 mm.

Ozone depleting substances

 Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs or Freons), Methane, Nitrous Oxides (N2O), Carbon Tetrachloride (CCl4), Methyl Bromide (a soil fumigant and insecticide), aircraft emissions, n- propyl bromide and Halon- 1202 are major agents that cause depletion of ozone layer. Hence, these are called as Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS).

 How is the Ozone Layer Depleted?

Chlorofluorocarbons or Freons get accumulated in greater amounts at high altitudes and gradually reach to the stratosphere. Under the influence of intense short wave ultraviolet radiations they release chlorine atoms. A single chlorine atom can react with more than, 100,000 molecules of ozone and can convert them into oxygen. Other ozone depleting substances like methane, nitrous oxide, methyl bromide etc. too, pass through a series of reactions under the influence of UV-radiations of sunlight and catalysts found in the air and help in the depletion of ozone layer.

Ozone molecule absorbs UV light between 310 and 200 nm. The ozone molecule absorbs oxygen atom to form two molecules of Oxygen, and the Ozone cycle continues.
Ozone is destroyed by a number of free radicals catalysts –like Hydroxyl radical, Nitric oxide radical, and Bromine through natural and anthropogenic sources.
Effects of the Depletion of Ozone Layer

I. General Effects 
Ozone absorbs ultraviolet radiations so that much of it is never allowed to reach to the earth surface. The protective umbrella of ozone layer in the stratosphere protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet radiations. Ozone plays an important role in the biology and climatology on the earth’s environment. It filters out all the radiations that remain below 3000Å. Radiations below this wavelength are biologically harmful. Hence any depletion of ozone layer is sure to exert catastrophic impacts on life in the biosphere. The Ultraviolet radiation is one of the most harmful radiations contained in the sunlight. Ozone layer in the stratosphere absorbs these radiations and does not allow it to reach to the earth.

The depletion of Ozone layer may lead to UV exposures that may cause a number of biological consequences like Skin Cancer, damages to vegetation, and even the reduction of the population of planktons (in the oceanic Photic zone).

Some of the remarkable effects of the UV radiations or the effects of depletion of the Ozone Layer are mentioned below.

(1) UV radiation causes sun- eye- diseases (cataract), skin diseases, skin cancer and damage to immune system in our body.

(2) It damages plants and causes reduction in crop productivity.

(3) It damages embryos of fish, shrimps, crabs and amphibians. The population of salamanders is reducing due to UV-radiations reaching to the earth.

(4) UV- radiations damage fabrics, pipes, paints, and other non-living materials on this earth.

(5) It contributes in the Global Warming. If the ozone depletion continues, the temperature around the world may rise even up to 5.5 Celsius degrees.

II.Specific Effects

The specific effects of depletion of Ozone Layer have been observed on Human Society, Agriculture, Plants and Animals etc. These effects have been summarized as below-

A. Effects of Ozone Depletion on Human Society

(i).The flux of ultra violet radiation in the biosphere is increased due to ozone depletion. It has seriously harmful effects on human societies like formation of patches on skin and weakening of the human immune system.

(ii). It may cause three types of skin cancer like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. A 10 per cent decrease in stratospheric ozone has been reported to cause 20 to 30 per cent increase in cancer in human society. Each year, about 7000 people die of such diseases each year in USA. About 10 percent increase in skin cancer has been reported in Australia and New Zealand.

(iii).Exposure to UV radiations damages skin of the sun-bathing people by damaging melanocyte-cells or by causing sun-burns due to faster flow of blood in the capillaries of exposed areas.

(iv).Exposure to UV radiations due to ozone depletion may cause leukemia and breast cancer.

(iv).Exposure of UV radiation to human eye damages cornea and lens leading to Photo keratitis, cataract and even blindness.

(v).The Ambient Ozone Exposure may cause Emphysema, bronchitis, asthma and even obstruction of lungs in human beings.

(vi).Exposure to radiations due to ozone depletion has been reported to cause DNA breakage, inhibition and alteration of DNA replication and premature ageing in human beings.

B. Effect of Ozone Depletion on Agriculture

    (i). Radiations reaching to the earth due to ozone depletion cause severe damage to plants including crops. As per reports, ultra violet radiations reaching to the earth cause losses up to 50 per cent in European countries.

    (ii).The radiation reaching to the earth due to the depletion of the ozone layer cause visible damages in plants. They adversely affect the rate of photosynthesis that finally results into decrease in the agricultural production.

    (iv).The UV radiation enhances the rate of evaporation through stomata and decreases the moisture content of the soil. This condition adversely affects the growth and development of crop plants and reduces the crop yield.

(v). The ozone reduction adversely affects the weather pattern which in turn affects the crop production by encouraging plant injuries and disease development.

(vi). The UV radiation reaching to the earth surface alters the global balance between radiation and energy. This condition of imbalance causes seasonal variations that further reduce the crop production.

(vii). A number of economically important plant species such as rice, depend on cyanobacteria residing in their roots for the retention of nitrogen. These bacteria are sensitive to UV light and they are hence, are killed instantly.

C. Effects of Ozone Depletion on other Plants and Animals

(i).The ozone layer depletion causes climatic alterations that cause physiological changes in plants and animals. The change in the energy balance and radiation may affect the survival and stability of living organisms.

(ii).The depletion of ozone layer may cause changes in thermal conditions of the biosphere. It may affect type, density and stability of vegetation which in turn may affect different bio-geo-chemical cycles operating in nature. Interruption in these cycles damages important process of ecosystem leading to dangerous conditions for plants and animals.

(iii).The depletion of ozone layer causes death of plankton- populations in fresh as well as marine waters .This condition seriously affects the transfer of materials in ecosystems. The recent researches gave analyzed a widespread extinction of planktons 2 million years ago that coincided with the nearby supernova. Planktons are particularly susceptible to effects of UV light and are vitally important to the marine food webs.

 The Ozone Hole
The hole in the context of ozone depletion relates to thinning of the ozone layer in a certain area. Here, the word hole is considered as a hole in the ground which in the context of ozone layer is thinning of ozone in a certain area up to certain depth as measured by scientists. In fact, ozone hole is an area where the ozone concentration drops to an average of about 100 Dobson Units. The word ‘Dobson’ has been taken from the name of the famous scientist and climatologist G. M. B. Dobson, who observed the ozone hole for the first time in 1956, over Halley Bay. 

The satellite measurements done in September 2000 revealed that the thinning of ozone layer in Antarctic had reached a record 28.3 million sq km which was about one million sq km greater than the record of 1998. Thinning of ozone in such a big area is rightly termed as ozone hole. The ozone hole in the Northern Latitudes has also been recorded. The ozone hole over Antarctica may expose not only the Antarctica but also a large area of the pacific and Atlantic oceans and South America as well.

The ozone hole over Antarctica was first discovered by Farman, Gardiner and Shanklin in 1985. They jointly declared their findings through a paper published in the May issue of Nature (an important International Journal) in 1985. The entire scientific community was shocked to know their findings.

On the basis of observations made through a network of ground based Dobson Spectrophotometer, an International Panel of scientists confirmed that the Ozone Layer was being depleted at all latitudes out side the tropics. Out of a big group of scientists across the world, Crutzen, Molina, and Rowland were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on Stratospheric Ozone, in 1995.The scientific assessment of ozone depletion is going on across the world since 1981, under the sponsorship of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the most recent measurement was done during the year 2006. Here are the comparative pictures showing the Ozone Holes over Antarctica during the spring seasons of two different years.

Image: Rowland, F. Sherwood (1927 - ) was awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the year 1995 which he shared with his friends Mario J. Molina, and Paul J. Crutzen

Why is the Ozone Hole over Antarctica, usually formed during spring months?
A circulation pattern of gases traps the ozone over the South Pole for several months but not during winter. This circulation pattern is called as Antarctic Polar Vortex. Within this vortex, the substantial ozone loss was detected for the first time during 1980. During extreme cold conditions, the polar winters are dark and continue up to three months without solar radiations. This leads to the decrease in temperature. The polar vortex traps air and contributes in further falling temperature which goes down up to -80 0c. The low temperature forms cloud particles that contain nitric acid and ice. These clouds provide surfaces for chemical reactions that lead to ozone depletion. During the Antarctic winters and springs, reactions that take place on the surface of the Polar Stratospheric Clouds (PSCs) convert pollutants into free radicals such as Cl and ClO.

These clouds can also remove NO2 from the atmosphere by converting it to nitric acid. It prevents the newly formed ClO from being converted back into ClONO2. The role of sunlight is the fundamental reason why the Antarctic ozone depletion is greatest during spring. The Antarctic ozone depletion is caused during September to early December. Over 50 per cent of the lower stratospheric ozone is destroyed during the period of the Antarctic Spring.

Image: Polar Stratospheric Clouds   [Sweden (67°N), on 27January 2000)] These clouds are formed during winters in the Arctic and Antarctic Stratospheres. The particles grow from the condensation of water and nitric acid (HNO3). The clouds often can be seen with the human eye when the Sun is near the horizon. Reactions on PSCs cause the highly reactive chlorine gas ClO to be formed, which is very effective in the chemical destruction of ozone.

Prevention and Control of Depletion of the Ozone Layer
Banning the production and use of ozone depleting substances is one important way of preventing further depletion of the ozone layer in the stratosphere. On the other hand, alternatives to these chemical compounds should also be searched out so as to replace these chemicals. Scientists of the University of California, U.S.A. devised a possible way of plugging the ozone hole by injecting alkanes or propanes into the atmosphere of Antarctica. The alkanes have the affinity of reacting with ozone destroying chlorine atoms. According to the scientists, about 50,000 tones of alkane or propane would have to be blown to check the ozone loss. These chemicals could be released from an altitude of about 15 km by a group of hundreds of large aircrafts.

Global Efforts for Controlling the Depletion of the Ozone Layer  
Since ozone depletion is a Global Environmental Problem, it requires strong global efforts and co- operations for its solution. The International Community is taking up strong efforts as a result of which global consumption of ozone depleting substances has decreased markedly.

Following the UNEP’s Governing Council’s meeting to co- ordinate activities on protecting ozone layer in 1975, United States, Canada, Norway and Sweden banned the use of CFCs. The production capacity of the European Union (E U) was frozen allowing limited uses of aerosols. In March 1985, 28 countries of the world agreed on Vienna Convention for the protection of the ozone layer. In September 1987, different countries of the world adopted Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete ozone layer. The General Assembly of the United Nations voted to designate September 16 as the World Ozone Day, to mark the signing of the Montreal Protocol, the 16th September, 1987.By December 2001, 182 countries ratified the Vienna Convention and 181 the Montreal Protocol. By 2000, 96 chemicals were subject to control under the Montreal Protocol.

Key Words: ozone layer,allotrope ,stratosphere,Protective Umbrella,Sulphur dioxide, Nitrogen Oxides,Dobson units, Chlorofluorocarbons Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS), Ultraviolet radiation,Nobel Prize in Chemistry,Polar Stratospheric Clouds (PSCs),alkane,Vienna Convention Montreal Protocol, World Ozone Day, 

Friday, February 26, 2010

A girl that she was

Neelu’s father scolded her again today. In the early morning when she asked him to bring the application form for two or three engineering entrance tests, he got furious.

“ I have said you can apply for IIT only, and since I am not to allow you take admission here and there, how dare you think like this? Infact, you are not sure about your success as you don’t study properly, and this is the reason why your mind is wandering towards easy choices. You are not made for good places. Do the household works properly, take care of your grand father and let me carry on household affairs. I have already squandered lots of money for your applications. You apply, spend my hard earned money and forget that you have to appear in the exams also.”

No sooner than she opened her mouth to speak something in her defence, he hit him on the back and she fell  down.He left out for office leaving her on the floor in fear and pains.

“I don’t wish to live any longer as my life is meaningless now. I have spotted a place on the top floor of this building and I will do it soon. I used to say my mother that I will die off soon after you leave me. See, years have passed and still I am living without a mother.” She explained all this in anxiety with  Tunju, her only class friend in the institute.

Tunju tried to encourage emergence of positive feelings in her friend but she was horrified to see the colour of her face and the fire in her eyes, though full of tears. She experienced for the first time how hard it could be to console a friend of the same age when she had decided to leave the world. She could not think of anything. Finally she decided to talk to Vikas Sir, Mr. Vikas Varun Padukon- her Chemistry Teacher  in the institute and she told him everything taking his assurance that he would not disclose anything about the earlier story, and he assured her.Then he went in his chamber and started dialing the telephone number of Neelu he had noted from Tunju.

After two hours, the teacher came to Tunju with a smiling face. He said,” Now she is better, nothing is going to happen. These fathers …” He wanted to speak something unpleasant about Neelu’s father but stopped.
“Just telephone her and observe the change of her mood.” The teacher said.

“Okay Sir, I am trying” Said Tunju and she telephoned her. Fresh and lively sound came from the next end. Neelu was saying, “Don’t you know, Vikas Sir telephoned me. Didn’t you mention anything about me to him earlier?"

“Oh no yar!  Why should I convey him the innate feelings of my best friend, though you may know I am in a very bad condition since you told me all that? ... Could I do that? But, where from the teacher got your number?”
“ May be my landline number in his cell phone. Probably I have talked to him once or twice earlier. But, now I have decided to bring out my best at any cost. Now I have to become a strong and self dependent girl and I think I can. Do you know? … My mom does something from heaven whenever I fall in great sorrow. See, again she did something.”

“What something?” I asked.

“Activating Vikas Sir to talk to me… ‘t was really strange yar… almost unimaginable. I am happy to receive phone of such a great and ideal teacher, now I am not going to do all that rubbish I had thought. Now, I have to stand and face the challenges of life.” She said bravely.
Tunju  was re leaved.

NGOs received UNEP’S awards for bringing sustainable heat and light to the world

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on 23 February 2010 announced its Sasakawa prize to two international NGOs: Tree, Water and People; and Nuru Designs for their outstanding contribution for developing energy efficient stove and Nuru lights respectively.
The two projects by these two different international organisations, the Sasakawa prize winners of UNEP for the year 2009-10 bring heat and light to communities in Latin America, Africa and India.

This year’s UNEP prize winners Tree, Water and People and Nuru designs have been reportedly changing lives of the common communities sustainably. For this Achim Steiner, the UNEP’S executive director has said, “This is the Green Economy of tomorrow in action today.” Here is a brief introduction about the two path finder non-government organisations.

Trees, Water and People

It is a non-profit organisation which collaborates with local non- government organisations in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Haiti to distribute fuel efficient cook stoves that burn up to 70 per cent less wood and removes toxic gases from home generated otherwise by ordinary wood stoves.
The organisation carries out a number of other environ-friendly projects like managing community nurseries, reforestation, watershed management and promotion of renewable energy. So far the Tree, Water and People have coordinated the building of 35,000 stoves through out Central America and Haiti. More than 175,000 people have been benefitted from the project. The ecostoves that have been developed and distributed by the organisation has contributed to decrease 3.5 tonnes of Carbon dioxide equivalent per year for commercial users. The organisation has made villagers to create 16 community run nurseries that sequester carbon and counter the effects of deforestation. Three million trees have been planted through out America.

It is also reported that the organisation would use the prize money to support and expand the fuel efficient stove projects and community tree nurseries through out Central America, and Caribbean while purchasing equipment and materials necessary for increased production of the energy efficient stoves, as well as vehicles for transportation and delivery.

Stuart Conway: Co-founder of TWP

Rechard Fox : Co= founder of TWP

A tree, Water and People is a Colorado based organisation which works in Central America, Haiti, and America west. It has been the winner of 2008 US $1 million Rio Tinto prize for Sustainability. The organisation was founded in 1998 by Stuart Conway and Richard Fox. It has a staff of dedicated conservationists. This staff feels strongly about helping communities to protect, conserve and manage the natural resources to carry on long term wellbeing.

The organisation Trees, Water and People is guided by two fundamental principles-

1.The natural resources are protected best when local people play an active role in their care and management.

2.Preserving local trees, wetlands and watersheds is essential for ongoing social, economic, and environmental health of communities everywhere.

Some of the major functions of Trees, Water and People are –

1.Continuing reforestation and protection of watersheds

2.Generation and conservation of renewable energy

3.Application and development of appropriate technology

4.Environmental Education Programmes in Latin America and American West.

The national and International programmes of TWP programmes are recognized internationally. It has received the Ashden Award for renewable energy as well as award from Kodak, Conservation Fund, eTown, and the Nationally Syndicated Environmental Radio programmes. The programmes of the organisation are also featured on National Geographic Television, National Public Radio and also in the Christian Science Monitor.

The problem that inspired the organisation

It is reported that more than 80 percent of families cooked meals over open wood fires. They didn’t have access to alternative sources of fuels. They could not even afford to buy electric or gas stoves. Smoke generated through burning fire indoors cause acute respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, eye diseases and even tuberculosis. The inefficient open wood fires required a great deal of fuel that contributes to deforestation.

The open fire cooking wood stoves require a great deal of wood releasing carbon dioxide and other green house gases into the atmosphere.Women who cook over open fie run the risk of being affected adversely with the same. It was to combat with these problems the organisation developed many types of fuel efficient stoves that consume up to 70 per cent less wood than the traditional wood stoves. The technology behind the stove is simple due to which it can be made locally with local materials to adopt with the local cooking systems. The organisation trains local people about how to build, use and maintain the stoves at domestic levels.

Nuru Designs

This organisation has been organised in view of replacing the application of expensive, polluting, unhealthy and dangerous kerosene as a source of lighting system for the two billion people without access to electricity. Out of these people about 580 million live in India.

The Nuru Lights

The Charging System of Nuru Lights

The organisation Nuru Design has prepared a portable light that can be recharged by pedaling for 20 minutes and has been developed for use in areas that have not been electrified. This has been the device for which the Nuru Design has won the UNEP’S prestigious Sasakawa prize.

The word Nuru means light in Swahili. The organisation is headed by a social entrepreneur Sameer Hajee who is in fact a Canadian national who has his family roots in India and Kenya. According to Janab Hajee, a pilot project was already in place in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. Hajee expected that these units might be rolled out by coming summer with 300,000 units by the end of the year.

Nuru light is the lighting system that can be recharged by a pedal generator – the Nuru power cycle. The field testing of the system was done in the African nation of Rwanda. The organisation has decided to use the award money to “replicate the success of lighting system in India by the end of this year and also in the African countries of Burundi, Kenya and Uganda.

Key Words: UNEP,Achim Steiner, TWP, Nuru Designs,Green Economy,Sameer Hajee,

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Child Marriage

Surveys on child marriages that have been carried on in India, show that child marriages contribute to numerous social problems like soaring birth rates, acute poverty and malnutrition, high illiteracy and infant mortality and low life expectancy etc. In Rajasthan state in India, a survey of more than 5000 women conducted in 1995 by the central government showed that 56 percent of women were married before attaining the age of maturity. Even 15. 3 percent of these were married before the age of 5 years and the 14% were married before the age of 10 years. Out of every 1000 births, 73 children died in their infancy and 103 were under the age of 5 when they died. Sixty three percent of the children fewer than 4 years of age were found to be severely undernourished. “Sociologists say that the Gujjars and similar groups trace the origin of child marriages to Muslim invasions that began more than 1,000 years ago…. Today the stories are still echoed in the local view that any girl reaching puberty without getting married will fall prey to sexual degradations”.

Child Marriage
Any marriage of a female child younger than 18 years and a male child younger than 21 years, in accordance to the Article -1 of the Convention on the Rights of Child, is called as Child Marriage or Early Marriage. In fact, Child Marriage is the practice in which the parents of two small children arrange a future marriage. These children are not allowed to meet each other until the wedding ceremony is performed at their age of maturity. This age may differ from culture to culture. In some cultures this age often falls even before the onset of their puberty.

The child marriage is a world wide phenomenon but it is most prevalent in Africa and Southern Asia and although its practice has decreased somewhat in recent decades, it remains common in (although not only confined to) rural areas and among the most poverty stricken populations.

The International Institute for Population Sciences; Mumbai conducted a Child Health Survey from 2002 to 2004 in different states of India. According to the study conducted by this institute the percentage of child marriages in some states of India are – 52 in Bihar, 44 in Jharkhand, 49 in Rajasthan, 28 in Haryana, 10 in Punjab, 10 in Uttaranchal, 46 in West Bengal and 39 in Andhra Pradesh. It has been found that the rules framed for the abolition of Child Marriages and efforts of Governments are being proved ineffective. 

Causes of Child Marriage
There are two fundamental reasons behind child marriage- Poverty and Economic Transactions, and Notions of Morality and Honour.

(1). Poverty and Economic Transactions-Poverty is a critical factor which encourages child marriages. Rather, it is a reason behind that. In communities where child marriage is thought to be a transaction that often represents a significant economic activity for the family, the girl child   is the only commodity the family has with it to trade and sometimes to use it as a currency to settle a debt. In some poor African societies young girls are considered to be properties of their parents who can attain greater wealth and are married in early years.

(2).Notions of Mortality and Honour-Notions of Mortality and Honour have been enshrined deeply in many cultures. These factors encourage the practice of child marriage. High values have been placed on female virginity in Indian culture since very long. It is being considered shameful if a girl going to marry is not virgin. Hence, parents stand searching appropriate groom for their daughters even earlier to her puberty.

Consequences of Child Marriage
Child marriages have many detrimental consequences that can be classified as physical, developmental, psychological and social.

Physical Consequences: When a girl child is married in early age she is likely to be forced into sexual activity with her husband who usually remains much older than him. As the bride remains physically and sexually immature it has serious health consequences.

Developmental Consequences: Child marriage and gender inequality limits the development of a girl child to her reproductive roles only. Studies conducted in Africa show that there is a strong relation between woman’s age between marriage and the level of education she achieves. Early marriage of a girl child results in a low level of education and life skills, increases vulnerability to abuse and poor health and thus acute poverty.

Psychological and Social Consequences: A girl child married in her early age has to lift the huge responsibility of playing the role of a wife and mother. Since such girls are not prepared to become a wife and mother, this heavy burden has a serious impact on the psychological welfare and relationship of these children. Early marriages have also been found to have connections with abandonment and increased levels of divorce. Child brides often face the danger of being widowed by their husbands due to old, disease or other reasons. Some brides often become domestic slaves of their in-laws.

Indian and Global Scenarios of Legislation against Child Marriages
The central government of India has enforced Child Marriage Restraint Act – 1929, revised on 1 Oct. 1978 through which it has raised the legal age of marriage as 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys.

Child marriage has been prohibited through a number of International Conventions and other instruments on global level. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 states through its Article 16 (I) that men and women of full age have the right to marry and form a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and its dissolution. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending parties.

According to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child 1990 and its Article XII- Child Marriages and brothels of girls and boys shall be prohibited and effective action including legislation shall be taken to specify the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years.

The convention on the Rights of Child, 1989 (CRC- 198) has been satisfied by all the countries with the exception of the US & Somalia. A number of articles within the CRC hold relevance to child marriage like Article 3, Article 19, Article 24, 28 29 and 36.

Education can play an important role in efforts of eliminating child marriages. UNICEF has researched into child marriages and has come to the conclusion that ‘more education a girl receives, the less likely she is to be married as a child’. Therefore, access to female education and elimination of gender gaps in education, can be important strategies for abolition of child marriages.

Key Words: child marriage, Child Marriage registration act, convention on the rights of the child