“On and on they flew, over the countryside parceled out in patches of green and brown, over roads and rivers winding through the landscapes like strips of matte and glossy ribbon.”― J.K. Rowling
The classic phrase from J.K. Rowling’s book gives such a beautiful vision of the rivers and how they make the land look much more beautiful.
I remember the days during my visit in Mumbai; where sitting there, near the Marine Drive used to give me such a pleasure, and all the worries would suddenly just fade away into those shades of blues. Or the times in Rishikesh, where you could just sit through hours soaking your feet in the running river, feeling each tiny little wave the river makes while you ponder in your deepest thoughts.
How relaxing and serene they are, aren’t they?
But can we really say that about them today? Well, it will be quite hard provided that most of our rivers are turning into gigantic waste dumps!
I am not just talking about my country, rivers are being polluted everywhere! All around the world, the rivers are turning into tubs of death; whether it is, Citarum River, Lake Karachay, Yellow River Yamuna or Ganga river; and we are still counting.
One of the eight wonders of the world Taj Mahal overlooking highly polluted river Yamuna. Photo by Leon Yaakov
No that’s not Antarctica! A man offering morning prayer in Yamuna river in New Delhi. the river is full of industrial waste bubble. Photo source AP.
We might be using Earth’s geology as an invisible dumping ground but my dear friend, sooner or later all our deeds are going to smack our faces with deadly disease due to air and water pollution, because if we haven’t quite noticed yet, most of the resources that we pollute are the ones which we consume. Yeah, good luck with that!
If we look closely at the history of how each river got polluted, we might notice that the causes are more or less similar like sediments from the soil at the construction site, sewage, chemical and radioactive waste from the industries are sometimes accidentally discharged into the rivers like mercury, lead, cyanide etc.
River Jian, China, severely polluted with industrial waste. Photo source Reuters.
Take New River that flows between Mexico and U.S. as an example. Due to pipe explosion or tanker spill accidents, oil leaked into the river and contaminated the river bodies as in case of Gulf Oil Spill. Also the pesticides and fertilizers that get washed and increase the content of nitrogen and phosphorous in the rivers are dangerous for aquatic ecosystem. In fact soaps, detergents, plastic bottles, polythene bags and cattle excrement which are a part of everyday life, also contaminates the rivers and make them highly polluted like the Marilao River at Philippines, Yamuna and Ganges in India.
This causes rivers to have a filthy smell and majorly affects the aquatic life. The pollution causes algae to settle on rivers, making them oxygen and sunlight starved which results in disrupting the food chain. The growth of photosynthetic plants, micro-organisms and even loss of biodiversity is a huge risk for the and it’s eco system for instance the Han River in Korea which is currently a trench of industrial waste and urban trash, so much that Han River has become a byword for pollution.
Algae-covered Chaohu Lake in Hefei, China. Photo source Reuters
Also pollution makes the rivers a breeding ground for various diseases. We blame the houses and restaurants where we might have had dined for being infected with disease like typhoid or cholera, but hey guess what! It is the rivers that we pollute every day, through which microorganism such as pathogens invades the body of the hosts and infects it with diseases.
Some of the diseases caused by polluted water bodies are Malaria, Lead poisoning, Hepatitis A, respiratory infections, Cancer, Kidney Damage, Reproductive and Endocrine damage and many more.
Some of the waterborne infectious diseases illustrated. Source sciencemag.org
But the question is what to change, and how to change?
Most of the waste is actually a valuable resource unless we discard it and which can be recycled and reused, thereby preventing pollution by keeping maximum valuable materials outside the landfill and even rivers.
Let’s look back in the history. It’s interesting that crops were still grown during the Pre Historic Age when people didn’t even have fertilizers and pesticides. And the food was good, humans were strong and new age immunity issues like Cancer were only things of the future. Probably it’s time to get back to the basics with the help of eco-friendly alternatives of currently in use chemical fertilizers.
Rather than chucking food wastes into the trash bin, we can make our very own nutrient rich supplement as compost. Dried coffee when scattered on ground provides a nitrogen boost to plants, crushed eggshells provide calcium to plants. Are you so amazed by them that you are looking for more such alternatives? Here, Beauty & Harmony Life has provided ideas to recycle potential garbage! Let us save those 3 million people who suffer from severe pesticide poisoning every year!
According to BanTheBottle, “Bottled water may be hurting your health. A new study suggests plastic bottles release small amounts of chemicals over long periods of time. The longer water is stored in plastic bottles, the higher the concentration of a potentially harmful chemical, a new study suggests.”
Also, do you know, around 4 billion PET bottles end up in the U.S. waste stream each year? And this is the statistics just for U.S. Think about the whole world!
So, instead of plastic bottles and polythene bags, let’s make sure we use materials that are durable for a longer period, like jute/cloth bags and aluminium bottles. This will reduce the frequency and quantity of plastic waste being discarded.
Tapped- A documentary that uncovers the ‘dirty’ water packaging industry.
According to an article “Fighting the Tide, a Few Restaurants Tilt to Tap Water” in The New York Times, Dr. Gina Solomon, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, told that “there is no reason to believe that bottled water is safer than tap water.
We all know that, there are still some things that are just out of the reach of an individual human being. But let us not forget that Governments can step in and put our tax paid money in better use. In fact there is a wide range of success stories from different countries that have been able to fight river pollution! Got surprised? Yes some people believe that pollution is inescapable, but remember ‘where there is a will there is a way!’
This is a note to our respective governments; do not shy away from learning from the experiences of other countries. For instance the Cuyahoga River that used to frequently burst into flames was so polluted that its waters was claimed to have ‘no visible life’. However with the help of government’s initiative (Environment Protection Agency: Clean Water’s Act), it has achieved undeniable success and for that matter, even Chicago River which had been used as a sewage in the past, has now with the help of EPA improved the quality of its water.
Even the River Thames, which had been declared as biologically dead, has now after 50 rigorous years or so been successful to bring it back to life, and today it is a home to several wildlife species. Do you know that the polluted water can be recycled which can thereby help us conserve the freshwater resources. As a matter of fact many countries like Singapore, Namibia, California, New Mexico and Virginia have been already drinking recycled water with the help of water reclamation facility. Amazing, isn’t it!
A water reclamation unit at Livermore, USA. Photo by Jay Galvin
According to BBC, “none of South Asia’s 1.65 billion people have access to clean, safe tap water; more than half of China’s rivers and lakes are too polluted to drink; and 72% of samples collected from Pakistan’s water supply system were found to be unfit for human consumption. What’s bad for humans is also bad for the environment. According to a report recently issued by the WWF, animal populations living in freshwater have declined by 75% over the last 40 years, thanks largely to pollution.” Are we still waiting for these statistics to turn into a 100% ?
Hey, if we start paying close attention and genuinely start caring about the environment, we just might understand that recycling and reusing are the best technique which can be used because you know what, no matter how many techniques you advance like drilling the waste deep beneath our Earth’s feet or dumping it in landfills, it is somehow going to contaminate the resources and we will have to switch back to the three R’s that we have been studying since a zillion years in our schools: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle! So, why don’t we just start now, rather than wait for the time when it’s too late?
We are smart, intelligent and creative human beings aren’t we? In Hindu mythology it is said that, after living for centuries as animals, hungry ghosts and denizens of hell; God bestows upon us the life of a human being. So let us put our intelligence and creativity into the benefit of all the species and make this life worth living!
Sonakshi Batra is a second year student of Political Science at Hindu College, New Delhi. She is a theatre lover and has been a student at National School of Drama, New Delhi. She has also dubbed serials for National Geographic Channel, Doordarshan and has recorded a few radio plays as well. With the help of Earth5R she wishes to spread awareness about environmental crisis.