Aami aakhabaadi (“We are hopeful”)
This section highlights some good practices that have been taken up in Majuli, Assam, and in the North-East of India vis-à-vis climate justice and mental health. It also underlines how fostering a community’s ability to manage distress using its own resources is a sustainable and holistic approach.
Detailed examination of community responses to recurring floods offers examples of best practices forming a time-tested body of alternative knowledge. For instance, the flood-resilient Chang-Ghar4 system of the Mishings is a unique indigenous response to environmental hazards.
Similarly, their climate-sensitive expertise in growing suitable crop varieties, or their traditional cost-effective approaches, such as planting trees like Indian cottonwood, bamboo, coconut, and betel-nut, are some effective nature-based solutions for soil conservation. Especially when embankments, dykes, or sandbags have remained vulnerable to breaches. Phukan further adds, “Their ways of preserving food through smoking, sun drying, pickling, or by fermenting can be useful methods during climate-induced crises.”
However, disconnection from social support systems is one of the major stressors of climate change. Dipa explains the significance of traditional community care networks in building resilience: “After our homes got swept away and when the entire community used to eat a meal together, we used to feel xukhi (happy).” Deb5, a disaster management professional in Majuli, talks about the district’s Aapda Mitra scheme, which trains community volunteers as first responders to disasters; and the Community Quick Response Team, consisting of local men, women, and resource-deprived groups like transgender persons. These are exemplary community-based, low-resource methods to reduce vulnerabilities and mitigate the mental health and psychosocial impacts of climate change.
Further, losing one’s home environment can create a sense of a loss of belonging, and of personal identity, especially exacerbating the experiences of children. Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS) help in addressing this marginalised group and ensure a safe environment through integrated programmes like play, education, health, and psychosocial support. “Along with CFS, every flood camp in Assam has a special corner for pregnant and lactating women,” Dhriti mentions.
Climate-induced disasters can also make mobility a challenge for older people and people with disabilities, thus impacting their sense of autonomy and control. “With the help of ASHA6 workers, we take special care of these vulnerable groups,” adds Dhriti. Similarly, MANOJNA — a tele-counselling helpline service — provides psychosocial support for disaster-affected people of Assam. It facilitates appropriate referrals while also offering follow-up services. The Assam Climate Change Cell (2018) envisages cross-sectoral convergence across departments in the planning, delivery, and monitoring of climate action, while at a macro level, the Pakke Declaration (2021) of Arunachal Pradesh is a model multi-sectoral approach towards low emission and climate-resilient development.
So, what are some of the paradigmatic shifts that can strengthen disaster management policies, while also building allyship with mental health? Climate-related disaster responses should operate with a psychosocial lens and go beyond the diagnosis-treatment model. Climate-affirmative mental health practices should integrate the psychosocial impacts of climate change and address systemic inequities at a multi-sectoral level. This can be witnessed as Dutta and Dipa, while highlighting the community needs of Majuli, underline the need for a bridge and emergency healthcare support, along with employment avenues following disasters.
Community-based mental health programmes should be deployed to bridge the gap between Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)7 and climate-induced stressors. Different marginalities operate within individuals and these intersectional locations need to be taken into consideration while addressing community distress