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.

Health advice for the lucky 5 billion


Two liters of water per day

In Brussels, as most places outside of the Nordic countries, you can’t drink water out of the tap. This is probably one of the most major things I would miss from Sweden. So you buy your water from one of the mind-boggling selection of brands available. However, buying water in bottles has one benefit: you can easily measure how much you drink.

A male between 19-30 years old (that’s me!) needs about 3.7 liters of water per day. Discounting for the amount of water from food, the metabolism and other sources – you’re left with about 2 liters of water per day to drink. This means two bottles per day – easy to measure and track. So, now I’ve got a new goal.

This is a great health advice of course, however 1/6th of the world’s population or 1.1 billion people can’t take this advice – they simply don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water.

Over the past few days I’ve been reading “The next 4 billion” a study of the Base of Pyramid market (the 4 billion living on less than $3000 in local purchasing power), where they’ve amongst other studied the water market. This reading gives you a lot of insight into how to understand the developing world from a market based perspective.

Today, still, most people in for example Africa relies on surface water – which might seem free but has a hidden cost in terms of disease and death (3800 kids per day). However even excluding these people, the worldwide water market in the BOP is estimated at $20.1 million (international dollars – not the US ones). This is clearly a space for more entrepreneurs to start creating new business models and technology – the economic returns could be huge.

Living with water-shortage (and some bats)

This is an imported post from my travel blog for my China trip in 2006.

In this part of China there’s a shortage of water, probably due to the fact that a lot of the water is diverted to agriculture and industry. The way that they have “solved” it around here is simply to only have the water turned on during certain times of the day. For example, during morning until 9 am, during lunch hour and during evenings until 22-23. The rest of the day it’s not possible to flush the toilet, to take a shower or even to wash your hands. Of course, the people living here have found a good way to handle the problem. In every bathroom I’ve been in they have a big plastic container for water (maybe 30-40 litres) which they fill up during the times that we have water.

Naturally, living with water shortage certainly has a big affect on our daily lives. Dad usually tells me you shui le, you shui le, xi zao (meaning “now we have water, now we have water, go shower!”), I’ve also more than once heard when eating out that we should hurry home so that we’ll have time to shower before there’s no more water. This situation has also made me realized just how much water I use.. it gets painfully apparent when you have to manually fill the toilett with water from the water container and you can see the litres of water just draining away…

Though, rest assured that I’m getting my body’s need for water covered – by the amount of water melon you eat here there is no risk of dehydration :).

As a final note on water – in the situation that China is facing with water shortage etc. it is of course quite interesting that there is an abundance of tea and soft-drinks (coca cola) available everywhere.. perhaps in some cases directing some of the water from the industry to farming (which apparently has been hit hardest by water shortage) wouldn’t be such a bad idea…

Another quite meaningless thing I’ve notcied here in the last few weeks is the amount of bats.. in Sweden you’ll be lucky if you see one or two during late summer evenings, but here they’re everywhere. Down by the lake a few days ago I probably saw about 50-60 bats swarming around munching on flies and mosquites, and they get to it early here, just when it’s starting to get dark… well that was all about bats 🙂

Tomorrow I’ll start my lessons, I’ve begun preparing and planning and i’ve got a reasonable idea on how to work with it during the next couple of weeks. Hope it all works out.. This week-end, I and Jianglei will go to Tai Shan, the holiest of holy mountains in China, hopefully I’ll return with some spectacular pictures of temples and mountain-tops.