Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rivers Need Your Help

[Non Photography Post]

This is a follow up to a recent post I did on working with WWF. As part of the assignment I visited outskirts of Moradabad and other places where the Ramganga  river flows.  For starters, the photograph below shows some of the drains which are used to supply water to villages and provide water for irrigation to fields.

Water used for irrigation

If you are thinking it looks polluted then you are absolutely correct. In recent times river pollutions in Moradabad has increase many fold. Most of the  pollution is caused by disposal of e-waste primarily from the un-organized sector. E-waste is mainly generated by electronic products such as  computers, calculators, components in consumer items like TV, fridge and A/C. These components are made up of gold, silver, copper, lead etc which needless to say are of high economic value. The locals use primitive techniques for smelting of the products. Most times it is done over a gas stove. Needless to say this is harmful for human health. The process not only affects those who are engaged in extracting the metals, but others too face the hazard indirectly. (read on as to how it affects you). 

Most of the waste which is created is dumped directly into the drains untreated. As a result the water is contaminated. The contaminated water, when consumed causes many stomach ailments and prolonged exposure to these toxins leads to cancer. This same water is also  used to irrigate fields which is the source of our food. There by crops are also contaminated. 

Another facet which makes the situation worse is the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These combined with untreated water makes an even more potent cocktail of toxins.

Open drains with untreated water
By now you would have guessed that you are already affected by this problem in some way. The food crops which are produced in this belt are supplied all over the country and also exported. This is not just a domestic problem it is an international problem. 

Moradabad is not alone. There are many other cities which are in a similar state.

A view of village with polluted water
As per latest reports there has been a fall in the average age of people getting cancer in and around Moradabad (from 60-65 to 30-35 years of age). There also studies which suggest that the ground water has become contaminated.

Most affected are children who live in the immediate vicinity. Many children don't even make it to the age of 5 for lack of clean drinking water and  sanitation. 

This is just the impact on human life. There is a direct impact on wild life which is facing extinction because of the quality of water. This is  alarming, I could write more on this, but let us focus on what can be done to fix the situation.

Now comes the good part, this situation can be changed for the good. Moradabad can be fixed, a lot of places can be fixed, but it needs effort. It needs your help. 

Kids on the village
Future of any society
First of all, there needs to be increased awareness. You need to know and then you need to tell your friends and family about it. If each individual informs 10 people and then they inform 10 more people about this and this cycle repeats 10 times we would cover a huge percentage of the population! If enough number of people care, change will accelerate. There would demands for changes in legislation, demands would be made of people in power, people in the bureaucracy, politicians who's re-election would depend on fixing this problem.

At an individual level you can recycle these products or make sure these are disposed off in a proper manner. You ask where your products get made and is company disposing-off the waste in a responsible manner. You can vote with your currency. You can support business which behave responsibly thereby bring economics into the equation. 

There are also plenty of business opportunity in this situation. Currently there is no major player for collecting these products and disposing it off responsible which is consumer facing. A service like perhaps. 

VC's, entrepreneurs and business people, I am sure you will figure out the numbers. There are CSR programs which have money to spend but don't know where to spend it. 

The food which is grown using clean water and bio fertilizers and bio-pesticides is more tasty. (I am sure there are many restaurants who would like to differentiate themselves with this basis.) The shelf life of such food crops is higher and the cost of storage is lower. Food companies could make a higher margin on their products on this basis. I could go on and on about that...

For businesses which are directly responsible for dumping, fixing the problem makes long terms business sense as well. The government and courts have started to take action against such operations. They are starting with big companies and working their way to small ones. Even otherwise they have employees who work for them. The consume the contaminated water and fall sick. Direct impact falls on the bottom line (sick days and lower productivity). If the employee gets really sick, like getting cancer then there would insurance claims. This would mean higher premiums which again have a direct impact the bottom line. The water recycled reduces water bills, direct impact on the bottom line. 

Maybe you can't do something major right now but you will be able to in the future. For now you can educate yourself and you can spread the information . Tell your friends and family. You can share the links given below or share this post. You may know people or your friends many know people how can make an impact. You can chose to do something rather than being indifferent about it.

Wateraid India
Drinking water quality in rural India: Issues and approaches
Silent Killer
Centre for Science and Environment
Moradabad: Brass Work has turned into E-waste Recycling
RIVERS FOR LIFE The Case for Conservation Priorities in the Face of Water
Rivers for Life: The Case for Conservation Priorities in the Face of Water Infrastructure Development
Water Pollution and Digestive Cancers in China

PS: Special Thanks to Mayank Sharma, Merlyn Jacob and Nandina Gupta for their inputs