Darjeeling has long been considered the Queen of the Hills with its backdrop of majestic snowcapped mountains, dense forests and clean rivers feeding into lush valleys. For centuries its land locked nature has supported a slow pace of growth providing locals and visitors alike with some respite from the heat, humidity and stresses of the Indian plains.
This wonderful setting was the backdrop for a recent SDG Training for Multipliers involving Gaia Education, UNESCO India, the Darjeeling Goodwill Centre, the Himalayan Institute of Goodwill and Living and T'Classic Darjeeling Ltd.
Over 35 local institutions, represented by educators, environmentalists, urban planners, social entrepreneurs, feminists and tea growers, met to discuss the local relevance of the SDGs to one of the most beautiful hill stations in the world. This was a crucial gathering, for although Darjeeling is nestled in the scenic foothills of the spectacular mountain, Kanchenjunga, it is faced with serious environmental challenges such as water scarcity, poor urban sewage and sanitation services.
In a region with plentiful mountain streams and rivers such as the Tessta, Jahdhaka, and Rangit, hotels are refueled every day by water trucks, while local people are seen carrying water with hand driven carts over the narrow slopes and overcrowded roads. Leakage, deforestation, the drying up of ‘jhoras’ (small rivers), a faulty distribution network, and high population growth have been considered as the main causes for water scarcity in Darjeeling.
It was not a surprise that the highly engaged group prioritised #SDG6- Clean Water and Sanitation- as one of the three top SDGs to be delivered between now and 2030, with a series of potential activities such as rooftop rainwater harvesting and awareness raising activities to promote responsible consumption (#SDG12) amongst its growing population. Taking into consideration the influx of tourism, and the lack of integrated planning policies and conservation measures, the group also prioritised #SDG11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities - as a potential catalyst for the changes that need to occur in the context of rapid unplanned urbanisation and its impact on infrastructure, mobility, waste management, noise and air pollution.
The training will support communities to develop a long term vision, define the next achievable steps and travel the path of change. Empowered local activists have already begun to identify policies and resources that will help deliver an integrated SDG plan for Darjeeling.
The workshop was conducted by May East, Gaia Education CEO, with the guest speaker Dr. Huma Masood of UNESCO India, and the support of Fiorenza Bortolotti Himalayan Institute of Goodwill and Living Ethics