The Yamuna is the largest tributary of Ganga and is an important river Herself. Not only is She viewed as a living Goddess by Hindus, but Yamuna provides water for nearly fifty-seven million people who live in Her floodplain who rely on Her waters for every daily water need. Most importantly, 92% of Yamuna’s waters are used to irrigate the fields that feed a great percentage of India’s population, irrigating more than 12.3 million hectares of agricultural land.
The Yamuna River is unique. Her founder basin is very small, providing advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, a small basin is detrimental to the river as a whole because a minimal flow must be maintained at all times. Yamuna is also a perennial river so continuous level is again crucial for its survival. However, the glacial feed directly impacts the levels of the river, making it easy for the Yamuna to restore itself provided that it is not being overdrawn. During monsoon season, flooding in the river is essential, allowing aquifers to get recharged and fed by these waters.
The United Nations has declared Yamuna a dead river. Sadly, along much of the river, Yamuna is being used as a sewage drain. Delhi alone contributes up to 80% of the pollution load of the entire length of the river leaving 70% of Delhi’s drinking water polluted. In fact, in 2010 the Indian Supreme Court even referred to the Yamuna as a “ganda nullah” (“dirty drain”) rather than a dirty river.
Over 11 million people are directly impacted by the pollution in the river and the groundwater contamination from sewage flowing through river that recharges them. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, 85% of pollution in Yamuna is from domestic sources – namely, human excrement. Sewage flows freely in the Yamuna at Delhi, often untreated as the city only has the ability to treat about 48% of its waste. When this incredible amount of sewage is combined with additional pollution such as industrial effluents, the sheer volume of waste makes it impossible for current sewage treatment plants (STPs) to treat and clean the water properly. In some places like Vrindavan and Mathura, situated downstream from Delhi, STPs are now having to use more than double the amount of harmful chemicals like chlorine gas and alum in an attempt to purify the water, making the situation even worse for those trying to use the water for their daily needs. 23% of the children in the Yamuna River Basin are poisoned. Many of these children die from this poisoning!
Almost 97% of Yamuna’s original waters are diverted from the river just a few kilometers from Her source at Yamunotri. In the state of Haryana, more than 80,000 million liters of water are being held back by an irrigation dam – a highly contentious issue, as the holding of water is against federal regulations, yet thousands of people in Haryana now depend on this water – depriving the Yamuna of the water it so desperately needs to flush out pollution. Despite the fact that Delhi relies on Yamuna for 70% of its water needs, by the time Yamuna reaches Delhi, not a single drop of natural, fresh water of the river is left in Yamuna.
First Phase: To tackle the issues and challenges of Yamuna at Delhi because it is the nation’s capital. To address the specific issues in Haryana of water resource management.
Second Phase: To address the needs of Yamuna in Agra because it is the World’s Heritage Site. Next the pilgrimage spots of Vrindavan, Mathura, and Braj as they are associated with the aastha of millions across India and across the world.
Third Phase: To address the specific issues in Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Himachal (many of the above issues will have to include the below states participation but whatever is remaining from the above efforts can be addressed in this phase).
- Working to clean existing pollution in the Yamuna
- Working to develop waste management solutions so the dumping of millions of liters of sewage and industrial waste into Her waters can be stopped
- Working with communities and the government to restore and maintain adequate water flow in Yamuna in order to flush out pollution, and to end over-harvesting of her waters
- Educating all through mass awareness campaigns, such as public service announcements and documentaries on the issues, social networking, and outreach at key events such as the upcoming Maha Kumbh Mela in 2013
- Educating and inspiring youth to care for Yamuna by creating environmental, value-based curricula and organizing Yamuna clean-up days in schools
- Organizing local communities to become active stewards of their Yamuna by educating them on the issues and training residents on how they can make a difference