Wishing, waiting for clean water

Story by Maura Zurick  |  Video Story by Jessica Schmidt  | 

Highlights

  • All of the sewers located in Delhi, India dump into the Yamuna River on a daily basis.
  • Delhi residents have to depend on the government for clean drinking water.
  • No one is taking responsibility for cleaning the river.

It smells of garbage and human waste, not the usual aroma from a river. But the Yamuna River in Delhi is one of the most polluted waterways in the world. The trash littering its banks is evidence that the water isn’t safe to drink or even go in.

More than 16 sewers empty waste into the Yamuna, contributing to the toxicity of the water. Garbage is also dumped in the river, and very little is being done to clean it. Nandkishore Yadav, 35, Delhi, India, has lived in the slums on the banks of the Yamuna River his whole life. He has witnessed failed attempts at cleaning the river by the Indian government and multiple non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

“We don’t drink the water from the river,” he said. “We get water supplied from the municipal corporation [MCD]. We have one tap from them. The water comes 24/7.”

Yadav and his family drink the water provided by the government near their home in the Yamuna slums.

The water in his slums is supplied by the Delhi Jal Board, a government organization. Chief Engineer at the Delhi Jal Board, Verinder S. Thind, said it’s not up to the government to clean the water.

He said they are trying to clean the water that gets released from the sewers, so that the water being dumped in the Yamuna is clean.

Yadav said he and his family throw their garbage in the city dustbins, and that they are not the ones making it dirty.

“The waste in the water comes from the city sewers,” he said. “Also there are so many festivals happening all the time and stuff gets left behind from the festivals. For example, the flowers, the idols and plastic bags are thrown into the water. The MCD, they have a lot of plans for cleaning the sewers, but now they aren’t doing anything.”

Yadav earns a living as a farmer. His small farm is on an island in the Yamuna. He said even though they farm, they are still below the poverty line.

He said they don’t use the water for much, but they aren’t afraid to because of the Yamuna’s religious affiliations with the Hindu God Krishna. They don’t need to use the river water because of the water provided by the government.

“We have never fallen sick from the water,” he said. “We keep going to the water but don’t use if for regular drinking or using. But we keep going. We have never been sick.”

Garbage from a religious festival adds to the pollution in the Yamuna.

Yadav said a lot of NGOs try to clean the Yamuna, and they get a lot of media attention. He said people do know how bad it is.

The water is so contaminated that Yadav and his family can’t even fish. The sewage and trash kills most of the marine life.  There are very few plants growing on the banks because of the excessive piles of garbage. The banks of the Yamuna look more like a garbage landfill than the shores of a river, despite the efforts of the government and NGOs.

“Nothing is really done at the end of the day. It’s all just a show,” Yadav said. “They come, they create a lot of show, but they don’t really clean it. They don’t sit and clean it for days, the just do it for one day and then they’re done. During the Commonwealth Games last year, a lot of politicians came for the Yamuna cleaning drives, but the moment the Games were done, they forgot about us.”

Yadav said the government needs to stick to a plan and follow it through.

In 2007, the Indian government spent a half a billion dollars in an attempt to clean the river, according to a CNN article by Daniel Pepper.

“They just do it for formalities. They are not dedicated to it,” Yadav said. “They don’t execute. And we are not getting results. During the festivals, they clean the water 30 days before that, but once the festivals are over, the garbage is back there.”

A young boy runs to play cricket with his friends on the trash-filled banks of the Yamuna.

Bhole Prasad, 48, of Delhi, India, lives in the slums with Yadav. Prasad is a swimmer. That means he dives in the polluted river to try and find rupees or things to sell.

He said he has been living in the slums on the banks of the Yamuna for 25 years, and began swimming back then.

“I make just enough to survive somehow,” he said. “I dive into the water almost every day and I’ve never gotten a skin disease or anything like that. The water stinks a lot, but I have to go in it.”


Category: Social Concerns and Environmental Issues