The world’s largest plastic clean-up initiative, started in October 2015, is taking place in Mumbai at Versova Beach. What the lawyer and environmental activist Afroz Shah started with two empty hands has now become a force of change as to environmental protection and especially combating marine litter. The 3 km beach, the site of a dumping ground for trash, of which 95% is plastic, for the last two decades is now on its way to becoming an oasis for its citizens, as it once used to be. It is a showcase for what people can accomplish when working together (dugnad) for the common good. The initiative is actively supported by the United Nations using it as a model for global environmental activism. Several international documentaries has been made by CNN, Sky News etc. and can be found on YouTube and Facebook.
The Norwegian Consulate General in Mumbai has been involved in this since spring 2016. With Sweden onboard, we are now entering a new phase. The Honorary Consulates of Finland, Iceland and Denmark in Mumbai is also part of this endeavor. Our ambition is to bring our experience in environmental protection to the Versova Beach campaign.
Making a contribution to the citizen led Versova Residence Volunteers (VRV) mission demands humility from our side. It must not be seen as we, the Nordics, know how best to solve the problem with environmental protection, marine litter and plastic in Mumbai. We can share from our Nordic experience, but always taking into account the different social and cultural setting. We’re partners in this endeavor, not teachers with the correct answers.
There are three elements to the VRV movement: Beach cleanup, establishment of proper garbage collection infrastructure system and “Mind Change”. The Nordics will mainly focus on the last part linked to changing the perspective of people as to environmental protection and saving the Ocean.
The experience of the Versova Residents Volunteers (VRV) is that change of mind must come from an early age, involving teachers and pupils at local schools. The teachers will give special instructions on environmental protection related to the Versova Beach and what the pupils and the community can do to help beautify the beach and the ocean. Together with the VRV the Nordics are planning to setting up an essay writing contest with diplomas. Other activities is also contemplated. Introducing campaigns like; Keep Norway/Sweden Clean, Rusken and Blekkulf is contemplated. What the pupil learn will be transmitted to the parents and the localities; they become “Agents of Change”. In addition, the Consulates will provide branded vests for the volunteers on the beach to ensure high visibility. This will result in two mayor events along with a lot built-up initiatives. It is, however, paramount for success that the Nordics involvement in this VRV mission to save the Ocean and combat marine litter and plastic, is done close cooperation with the locals. Afroz Shah and the VRV would very much like to share their experiences.
They invite politicians, environmentalists and not least ordinary citizens to Mumbai and the Versova Beach to learn firsthand what this movement is doing and why it was given the United Nations “Champion of the Earth Award, 2016.” UNEP executive Director Erik Solheim visited Versova Beach on 2 October 2016, The Mahatma Gandhi Day, together with the UN Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh. Prime Minister Modi is often referring to the VRV mission as an inspiration for his Keep India Clean Campaign.
Relevant links: Versova Beach Cleanup https://www.facebook.com/VersovaBeach1/