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The State of Assam is one of the most vulnerable to extreme climate events (Climate Vulnerability Index – Council on Energy, Environment and Water). Every year, Assam faces the fury of the Brahmaputra, bringing heavy floods and disrupting lives. Preety Tanti, an 18-year-old youth advocate from Ganeshguri Tea Estate in Dibrugarh district, is no stranger to extreme weather events.

Years of planned exclusion and recurring floods in the region have confined a large section of the tea plantation workers to intergenerational poverty with a lack of access to entitlements and social security. Since her childhood, Preety has experienced her neighbourhood getting flooded, the frequency of which has increased in the last few years, making it an annual occurrence. Deforestation in the catchment areas of the river basin has also eroded the topsoil, making the surrounding land infertile and increasing the risk of floods. Additionally, a substantial increase in plastic usage has also affected the aquatic life of the river. Amid this situation, Preety has made it her mission to raise climate awareness among her peers in the tea garden areas.

Preety formed a group with 20 children from across 10 tea gardens and educated them on preventing soil erosion. These children have been instrumental in reaching out to areas across tea estates and encouraging them to plant saplings to prevent further soil erosion.

“Over the years, I have felt that the intensity of flood in the Brahmaputra basin has increased, and rampant deforestation has also led to erosion of the topsoil. In my own way, I am encouraging my friends and community members to plant saplings to commemorate any festival or birthdays by planting trees,” said Preety.

She has motivated the Village Level Child Protection Committee (VLCPC) members in 20 tea garden areas to take up tree plantation activities to mark any occasion or celebration, be it at the personal or the community level. “People in our village are fearful of the annual floods as it leads to loss of livelihoods, and it also puts at-risk children’s safety. If we do not act now, then it would be too late,” said the District Child Protection Officer from Dibrugarh. He further added, “Preety, with her vision, has taken crucial steps to combat deforestation. Her initiative to plant trees during birthdays, weddings, or any local festivals have become popular among people as it doesn’t pinch your pocket and yet you can contribute to nature.”

She and her peers are also working relentlessly in the community to minimise the use of plastic bags. “Preety has made it mandatory for everyone not to use plastic bags. Along with her peers, she has campaigned in 20 tea estates in the region, urging everyone to carry cloth bags while grocery shopping,” said the manager of the Ganeshguri Tea Estate.

With her commitment and perseverance to the cause, Preety has earned the appreciation of the village Panchayat and has been nominated at the district level to sensitise others on climate action. On October 11 this year, she spoke on climate action, a virtual panel discussion set by the British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata.

The climate crisis is a child rights crisis. Sign our petition started with and for children to demand climate action now: www.savethechildren.in/petition-for-climate-action

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