Friday, July 06, 2007

Three Billion Liters of Waste Per Day

India Shining Stinking. A disturbing article in Der Spiegel about India's inability to deal with water (and air) pollution, focusing on the Yamuna river of Delhi.

India's meteoric rise in the world's estimation shouldn't eclipse the fact that there are still some huge problems facing the country.
Much of the river pollution problem in India comes from untreated sewage. Samples taken recently from the Ganges River near Varanasi show that levels of fecal coliform, a dangerous bacterium that comes from untreated sewage, were some 3,000 percent higher than what is considered safe for bathing.

How levels of water-borne effluvium skyrocketed to such levels in India can be seen by the example of India's capital, Delhi. Only 55 percent of the 15 million Delhi residents are connected to the city's sewage system. The remainder flush their bath water, waste water and just about everything else down pipes and into drains -- many of them open -- that empty into the Yamuna. "We have a flush and forget mindset," says Narain.
[snip] It's visible from Google Earth.
According to the Centre for Science and Environment, between 75 and 80 percent of the river's pollution is the result of raw sewage. Combined with industrial runoff -- and the garbage thrown into the river -- it totals over 3 billion liters of waste per day, a quantity well beyond the river's capacity to assimilate it. The frothy brew is so glaring it can be viewed on Google Earth.

There is little city residents can do. A confusing web of political appointees, civil servants, and weak elected officials with short term limits makes accountability almost impossible. At least eight separate agencies from the city, state and federal level oversee various aspects of the Yamuna's cleanup, alternately competing for funds and passing the buck when public anger reaches a boiling point.

The problem has become so intractable that the Indian Supreme Court -- notorious for legislating from the bench when government bureaucracies fail to act -- has jumped into the void. After having originally taken up the issue in 1994 following a damning article in the Hindustan Times highlighting the Yamuna's dismal condition, the court approved a new proposal from the Delhi municipal government in May of this year. The plan foresees the building of interceptor sewers to divert the sewage flowing from unconnected parts of the city to the sewage treatment plants -- and is estimated to cost another 20 billion rupees, or almost $500 million in total.

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