The first thing that a traveller to India learns is not to drink the tap water. And with good reason: millions of tonnes of sewage are dumped daily into India’s rivers – and some of them, such as the holy Yamuna and Ganges rivers – are slowly choking to death, jeopardizing the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.
"We talk a lot about industrial pollution of our rivers, but sewage pollution is a big problem," said Sunita Narain, the director of the Centre for Science and Environment on Thursday. "What is happening to the Yamuna is reflective of what is happening in almost every river in India. The Yamuna is dead, we just haven't officially cremated it yet."Some of these rivers are the only source of water for drinking and domestic use for many poor Indian citizens, so while a tourist can make do with some plastic-packed substitute, the impact of industrial and human waste is further worsening the water crisis in a country that depends on its rivers for water in agricultural and human consumption.
A study done by the Central Pollution Control Board showed that around 70 percent of the pollution in the Yamuna is human excrement. In large metropolises such as New Delhi, 3.6 billion tonnes of sewage alone are dumped daily – but only half of that amount is effectively treated and the rest flows down the Yamuna, resulting in widespread waterborne illnesses such as diarrhea from drinking and bathing in the affected water.
The problem lies mostly with poorly utilized waste water treatment plants and an outdated system of drainage. With over 300 plants, most are poorly located and treated waste is often combined with untreated sewage and deposited back into rivers. Half of the drains in India are considered inadequate.
Narain said that in order to meet the pressures of rapid industrialization and urbanization, India’s sewage management and treatment systems need to be overhauled and the rivers cleaned up.
"We should first look at effectively treating our waste water," said Narain. "And then using it for drinking or as irrigation rather than just throwing it back into the rivers." ::Planet Ark