When I was in India with the Sierra Club, we visited the Mamta Health Institute for Mother & Child in New Delhi. The Institute’s mission is to empower the underserved and marginalized individual and communities through gender sensitive participatory processes, for achieving optimal and sustainable health and development. However, Mamta is now starting to work on climate change and public health. The directors want to focus on the impact of increasing air pollution and heat stress on pregnant women, as well as follow up on recent studies that have shown abnormalities in children due to heat stress. Another subject under consideration is malaria and climate change, with the number of cases of this disease on the rise in India. Anjali Sakhuja, one of Mamta’s directors, stated that climate change will alter the whole epidemiology of things, especially childhood diseases.
What struck me most about Mamta’s climate-related projects is the focus on women. One of their reasons given for stepping into the climate change arena is that little has been done on what is happening to women. It can’t be stated enough – women will bear the brunt of climate change. Mamta is a small organization, and I am sure the few resources it has are being stretched in many directions, mainly on maternal and child health issues. But the group’s leaders understand that unless climate change is dealt with as well, it will overshadow many other problems. I remember Miss Sakhuja saying that they want to get people sensitized to climate change and public health issues. This is in India, a country grappling with a growing population, poverty, loss of biodiversity, caste and religious issues, and many other grave concerns. Mamta is an organization that works in rural communities and urban slums, often with the poorest of the poor. The fact that they get it (climate change) and are willing to try and tackle it should give hope to the rest of us. Mamta, by the way, translates as a mother’s affection for her child. It is obvious to me that this organization understands the need to take this meaning to a higher level.