Excreta Matters Newsletter


Editorial: Rivers are sewers

Water binds South Asia together. We share rivers and seas but have collectively done little or nothing to manage them well. Instead, water is a resource to be exploited and a receptacle to be abused. Last year’s publication, the 7th State of India’s Environment Report, Excreta Matters, amply demonstrated how Indian cities are abusing the country’s water resources and drowning in their own excrement. This is not an Indian prerogative, but nothing we can be collectively proud of.

South Asia revels in doing the same thing. Colombo, Dhaka, Thimphu and Kathmandu have the same malaise that Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata or Mumbai have. Rivers are sewers. Only the degree varies. The Yamuna stinks because there is no fresh water to dilute Delhi’s sewage. At the other end of the spectrum is the Thimphu Chuu (river), fast flowing river that carries away much of the city’s sewage. In between are the Bagmati River of Kathmandu, the Kelani River in Colombo and the Buriganga River in Dhaka, all polluted to varying degrees.

As we demonstrated in India, river pollution is the result of the failure of urban planning and governance. Urban growth has been fueled by rural-urban migration and natural population growth. Unable to provide sewage treatment plants and sewage networks, urban local bodies have been complicit in letting rivers become sewers. Looking at the Thimphu Chuu or the Kelani River, one may not immediately get the sense of a sewer, but as I said it is a difference of degrees; the attitude is the same.

There are simple and affordable solutions to this problem but planning in all cities is dictated by foreign consultants and agencies. Therefore, Thimphu has an ambitious plan to sewer all its new development areas, covering about 19 square km in hilly terrain and make sewage treatment plants (STPs). This, in a city that already has aeration lagoons that treat 2 million litres a day of sewage, and has space to make plenty more. Kathmandu has experimented with decentralized water treatment systems with some success.

We have tried a resource-intensive STP-centric approach all over India with abysmal results. The first Ganga Action Plan and Yamuna Action Plan are testimony to this. But nobody seems to have learnt. STPs don’t work as advertised because there is a shortage of power, manpower and sewerage networks.

What cities need is a mix of options, both conventional and non-conventional. These should be as decentralized as possible without compromising on quality and monitoring. Treated sewage needs to be reused and all our cities still have ample scope to do so for watering lawns, horticulture or industry. Instead of letting rivers become sewers that sicken and kill people downstream, cities need to clean up their act, and soon.
Nitya Jacob, CSE
Reality Bites
Sand, mine, mine, all mine
Text: Bharat Lal Seth
Art: Anirban Bora

CSE’s Knowledge Sharing Seminar in Dhaka and Khulna
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is organizing knowledge sharing seminars in partnership with the Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP) on Wednesday, September 4th, 2013 in Dhaka and in partnership with the Centre for Costal Environmental Conservation (CCEC) on Sunday, September 8th, 2013 in Khulna.

The agenda of the meet is to share knowledge on river conservation, pollution monitoring, urban sewage treatment, sanitation, protection of urban water bodies and scaling up city level rainwater harvesting in India and Bangladesh.


Water News from CSE
Colombo gains park, loses wetland
Revived to be killed
Rivers, up close and personal
Who is monitoring Lake Lavasa
Lift your head from the sand
‘Why develop profitable waterways through private firms?’
Omkareshwar dam: SC issues contempt notice to Madhya Pradesh over resettlement of oustees
Other News
Water Pollution
NGT restrains stainless steel pickling units from functioning
Pay if you pollute the Yamuna, orders National Green Tribunal
More Than Half of India’s Rivers Too Polluted to Drink
Water Resources
States, Union Territories urged to set up water missions
Decline in water level in 8 districts of Delhi
Yamuna a dumping ground for debris, says Union Minister
River linking a national necessity
Water Supply
Water scarcity is city’s biggest challenge, must take concrete steps now: Sheila
3,883 people died in 2012 after drinking contaminated water
40% of drinking water in Gurgaon has dangerous levels of flouride: Experts
Mineral water plant on anvil
Illegal colonies in Delhi may get sewer lines by 2014
Over 67% of rural homes still lack toilet: Govt
Manual scavengers say ‘no more’
Clean India campaign launched
Solid Waste
Town panchayats in Vellore district show the way in solid waste management
AIIMS, 8 other hospitals violating solid waste rules: NGT
Segregate your garbage, win gold
Dump garbage in public, pay Rs 500 fine
Forthcoming events
Conferences/Events in India
Eco-Productive Cities Conference - 5th to 7th September 2013, Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India
National Seminar on Advances in Waste Water Treatment and Reuse Seminar
Sustainable Water Resources Development and Management (SWARDAM
International Conferences/Events
Water and Society 2013 Conference  
2013 3rd International Conference on Energy and Environmental Science (ICEES 2013) Conference
International Conference on Water and Wastewater Management (ICWWM 2013)