Pump it up!

As I wrote in my previous post – Christmas was spent traveling and I visited both one of the holiest places for Buddhists (Bodhgaya) and one of the holiest places for Hindus (Varanasi). The Ganga river makes a turn back towards the Himalayas in a semi-loop on which Varanasi lies.

Since the main thing about this city is concentrated around the river, it’s also the river I’d like to write about first. Something many people are well-aware of (especially foreigners who’ve seen the travel accounts or movies depicting the river) the Ganga, especially around Varanasi, is heavily polluted.

What might not be obvious is that, in fact, it’s not the “obvious” things – the cremations, the bathing, the buffalo, the garlands and what not that are put in the river – that are causing the main problems for the Ganga. In fact, most (80-90%, I read) of the pollution comes from the practice of pumping raw sewage into the river from this city of 1.3 million people.

With this in mind, when I happened to stumble across a crumbling piece of urban infrastructure – an old water pumping station, I couldn’t help clambering my way across the outside wall and take a peek inside. I was allowed to stroll around until I tried to get a view of the insides the main building (which looks like it was built somewhere late 18th or early 20th century), when two men decided that they got a bit too stressed about having me poking around there and shooed me out.

This station clearly needed some upgrades, and no surprise that no cleaning of the water was going on here. In fact, there is an NGO that have been doing tests (in 2008) on the Ganga water which give you an idea of quite how serious this problem is:

Coliform standards (unit per 100 ml) in common Varanasi locations:

R.P. Ghatt …………………………..………………..82,000 FC
Shivala Ghatt …………………………..…………..430,000 FC
Tulsi Ghatt …………………………..………………..27,000 FC

 
Acceptable coliform standards are:

Drinking water …………………………..………………..1 TC*
Total body contact (swimming)………………………200 FC*
Partial body contact (boating) ………………………1000 FC

Treated sewage effluent………………not to exceed 200 FC

Of course, this is not a problem exclusive to either Varanasi, India or the so-called ‘developing world’, my previous home in Belgium used to have much worse water than here.

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