Ms Selestine Ekka leads youth in planting trees in Bahnatanger, India. Photo: Lok Manch

Dalits and Indigenous communities in India who depend on the forest are struggling to make a living. Natural resources are being depleted. The rising sea levels has forced marginalized fisherfolk living in coastal areas to move elsewhere. Climate change is destroying homes, lives and livelihoods. It is also now one of the leading causes of displacement and migration of vulnerable populations and it has deepened inequity and injustice.

Lok Manch (People’s Forum) is a national platform for promoting the dignity and well-being of marginalized people in India through advocacy and improved access to their legal rights. Along with over 90 local partner organizations, Lok Manch works with communities in rural and urban areas who live in extreme poverty and are now also experiencing frequent heatwaves, severe droughts and massive floods. They are also severely affected by declining water resources; changing rainfall patterns; increasing pollution; and accelerating erosion in coastal areas. This has led to loss of livelihood, diminished crop production and serious health issues in these communities. The large-scale and long term impacts of climate change has been felt by many.

Lok Manch and its partners, in addition to their other initiatives, have launched an awareness campaign that helps poor and marginalized people mitigate and adapt to climate change. The campaign empowers grassroots communities by: encouraging the planting of saplings, increasing green cover and creating carbon sinks; promoting the harvesting of rainwater from rooftops; showing how to safeguard forest resources; and demonstrating proper waste management. Lok Manch has also made a priority of providing livelihood to migrants and other vulnerable people.

Lok Manch works with community leaders across India. They are vital in ensuring the whole community realizes the impact of climate change on their livelihood, health and safety. Community leaders are key in addressing inequities and climate injustice, especially around people’s rights and access to natural resources. Capacity building of community leaders is therefore a priority. Lok Manch collaborates with expert organizations and networks to better equip community leaders to help their communities. Lok Manch cannot tackle climate injustice alone. It needs to work with civil society organizations and other groups to address this issue.

Countries, organizations and people in the Global North can help Lok Manch combat climate change and injustice by: facilitating the transfer of technology, especially around techniques in waste management; supporting the capacity building of community leaders and other stakeholders; sharing resources, including financial support, for programs that help local communities; facilitating connections with networks and organizations; and providing relevant training to equip people to handle climate change-related disasters and emergencies.

Climate change and injustice are major threats to vulnerable and poor people. These will further trap communities in a cycle of poverty. Unregulated development which does not put people first will negatively impact those who directly depend on the land and water for their livelihood and sustenance. Ultimately, if not addressed on all levels, climate change will harm everyone. Lok Manch is doing its part by empowering poor and marginalized people and building climate-resilient communities. We can no longer delay in responding to the climate emergency.