New Delhi: Dia Mirza, besides being a talented Actor and Producer, is one of the most vocal environment activist from India. For all her humanitarian efforts, United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres appointed her as one of the Advocates of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which are a collection of 17 global goals designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. The SDG’s were prepared in 2015 with an aim to achieve the goals by 2030.
On the occasion of Independence Day, Ms Mirza had an exclusive chat with NDTV, where she discussed her one year as an SDG advocate, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the SDG and the key to living a sustainable lifestyle.
What is the biggest lesson that we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of the linkages between health, hygiene, sanitation and climate change?
I think the answer lies within the question itself. The biggest lesson that this pandemic has, hopefully, taught us all is that health and well-being is directly connected to the environment. Scientists have been warning us of such pandemic for over two years and policymakers had not paid any heed to it. I hope with all my heart that those who continue to disrupt this balance causing destruction and devastation OF our natural world will understand that ecology is completely connected to the economy. We cannot hope to achieve any of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals or the kind of future each one of us hope for, if we don’t fix this broken relationship with nature.
The lockdown has had a different impact on different people, what have been some of the biggest health issues that have come to light because of the lockdown?
Lockdown has made many issues very glaring. Things that we quickly recognised, because of the people I work with and interact with or the information I have access to, is to realise how so little has been done to make our healthcare system more robust. The fact that everybody could be vulnerable in society – from senior citizens to youth, from loss of jobs to home and income. It has also made the inequalities very stark and helped us recognise how much more we need to do to create a more balanced, more caring and compassionate society. While all of this is a very dark and a stark picture, what really strengthens me and inspires me is that there has also been an equal number of people striving to make a difference remotely and its just been extraordinary to see the citizen partnership in mobilising efforts to make a positive change.
3) What has been your biggest learning from the pandemic?
Every single day, I felt an extreme amount of gratitude for the privilege of being able for stay home and not have to worry about so many things that millions of people were so stressed and worried about. Also, what really highlighted to me was the virtue of simplicity. The value of keeping life really simple. How it’s the really simple things that we take for granted and they matter so much. Physical interaction with people we love and care for like hugs. Just taking our freedom for granted, our mobility for granted. I realised how much freedom we had on a daily basis. The freedom to go where we want, meet who we want.
What are some of the significant achievements or areas where India has done well, when it comes to health, hygiene and sanitation?
I feel, while we made some important commitments, we haven’t really been able to implement them. I do see a big shift in citizen consciousness and awareness, so big credit to individuals and the power of individuals who are responding to the advocacy work. I see a big shift in people making better choices in their lifestyle in terms of what they are eating, what they are drinking and refusing single use plastic, leading a zero-waste lifestyle, becoming more and more involved in environment and social advocacy work. Especially during the pandemic, people are using their online network and reaching out to cultivate partnership, make a difference and help people. There’s a lot of good work that has happened, people have stepped up to aid and assist healthcare workers, raise awareness and create outreach for mental health issues, domestic violence, gender justice, among others. So there has been work but we have a lot more to be done because unfortunately due to the density of our population, the vastness and magnitude of some of our problems will take consistent work over a longer period of time to actually see through many things that will help us achieve the goals. There are more and more companies that are adopting green solutions, more and more companies that are set up to build back more sustainability.
Last year you were appointed as the official Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) advocate. How was the experience for you and what did you learn?
It’s an extraordinary opportunity because I get to build a partnership with and collaborate with some of the most. Wonderful people on the planet. Working at the headquarters, working with the Secretary-General, being engaged with everything drives solutions. The Sustainable Development Goals have taken a huge setback because of the COVID-19 pandemic and it just makes what we have to do that much more urgent. The fact that we need to continue to reach out and inform more and more people for the merit of SDG, educate people on what they are and include more and more people into adopting the SDG. Whether it is industries, or companies or individuals, whatever it may be. I feel very lucky to be able to create this kind of engagement, to have access to the kind of information that really sets perspective for me. Because it can be really overwhelming especially because we are living in a developing economy, where so much affects us so deeply on a daily basis. It is very empowering to be a part of the solution.
Has it been hard for you to make the transition to a sustainable way of life?
Sustainable lifestyle is about forming new habits, bringing that consciousness and awareness into the choices we make. So, many things are easy – it was very easy for me to switch from regular sanitary napkins to bio-degradable sanitary napkins, it was easy to switch from regular plastic toothbrushes to bamboo toothbrushes, or bamboo earbuds. It is very easy to carry a foldable cloth bag in my handbag whenever I’m out so that if I’m shopping, I’m able to bring back whatever I have purchased in my own carry bag. Somethings are a bit of a challenge but with time, efforts and persistence, they fall into place. Setting up an effective waste management system in the co-op I live in took a little time but now it’s an official system. The pandemic has caused a bit of setback but we continue to engage and do what we can. It’s really as difficult as you make it and as simple as you choose to make it. Whatever can be controlled by personal choice is obviously easy but whatever is connected to more people and their contribution can be a little challenging but you just learn to be patient and not beat yourself up if others don’t follow through. Just keep trying.
If you were entrusted with the job of devising a roadmap for a healthy India, then what are the Top 5 things that you would like to see done and why?
Climate action is paramount. We have to include climate action into all aspects of governance. Second is education, we have to work harder on improving our education system, including environmental studies into our education system and really spending more on education. I think it is a very underserved sector in India and we need to do much more. The third is health, it is again a very underfunded and a very under-equipped aspect of the country and I think this pandemic has made that glaringly evident. We need to do much more to improve our health institution, health outreach and empower those who work in that sector. These three things according to me are most crucial, followed by urban development being inclusive of ecology. We also need to find ways to fulfil the commitments made in the Paris agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.