Delhi Is About To Have Its Water Poisoned, Unless We Act Now

Posted by Aditya Pant in Environment, Staff Picks
December 15, 2016

In a world where opposition arguments are becoming increasingly redundant (read: Solar cells would suck out all the energy from the Sun), it has become increasingly important for environmental enthusiasts to come up with tangible reasons against obvious disasters for the environment. The burden then shifts from the exploiters to the victims to establish that the opposition is not just an opposition for the sake of it, but stands to guard the entire community against the hazards of unsustainable development.

Such is the case of the proposal by East Delhi Municipal Corporation of creating a landfill on the banks of river Yamuna. While the already miserable condition of the river, which is barely visible under layers of toxic foam, does not induce a sense of urgent clean up in the government and the public alike, the idea of creating a landfill on the banks of Yamuna is an astonishing display of raw stupidity. Here are 4 key reasons, among many more, as to why creating a landfill, in and of itself, is an environmental disaster, more so on the banks of a river that feeds us drinking water, and how it directly affects the main stakeholders – the residents throughout Delhi:

Photo by Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

1. Water, Water Everywhere, Not A Drop To Drink

Landfills constitute a fundamental assault on the ground and surface water which surrounds it. Leachate from landfills seeps from the landfill in the form of concentrated poison to drinking water; just 4 drops of this liquid are enough to render more than 75,000 litres of water (an average swimming pool) undrinkable.

The impact of water degradation is best illustrated through the Love Canal mismanagement in the United States. When unsustainable consumerism took over, love disappeared, literally and figuratively. In what panned out to be a massive demolition of an entire neighbourhood, the Love Canal scars the history of the USA as one of the most haunting incidents of environmental mismanagement worldwide. The incomplete Love Canal in New York was part of an up and coming neighbourhood in the Niagara Falls region of New York City. It was subjected to over 22,000 barrels of toxic waste in 1970s, kudos to the preceding 33% population growth in the region. The rising population had an exponentially higher consumption patterns and soon the need for a landfill to dispose off the waste was needed.

Wanting to save the booming Real Estate enterprise, the canal was seen as a myopic solution for the waste disposal of the nearby industrial waste. The results were indications of Leukaemia in the residents who were directly affected by the landfill and a Superfund program which was needed to save the dissemination of waste into nearby water bodies. Unfortunately, the programme failed in doing so, the residents were exposed to impotable water, suffered diseases and eventually, they had to be evacuated and the neighbourhood was demolished. Love Canal wasn’t lovely anymore.

2. Take A Deep Breath. Or Don’t

The air quality of Delhi hit new lows this winter with the magnanimous Diwali celebrations and the crop burning in nearby agrarian states. What better way to add to the mix than to create a filthy landfill! Decaying organic matter within landfills leads to the production of over 10 toxic gases, the most threatening being methane. In a study of over 288 landfills, more than 80% of them reported off-site diffusion of these gases into the neighbouring areas. One of the most potent greenhouse gases, Methane in high concentrations can cause breathing problems.

Constant exposure to such air from landfills can cause defects such as reduced height in children, lung and heart diseases in adults among other respiratory risks. So the time for sitting back and taking a deep breath is long gone; the time for action is here.

3. Filling Away The Land

The idea about contemporary monuments could possibly manifest into gigantic landfills; the attraction, however, is going to be an issue. Dumping waste into landfills to create clean spaces is a myopic move which does not fully take into consideration the final repercussions of the move. While a mirage of cleanliness is created in the posh parts of the cities, the land subjected to thousands of tons of waste is permanently scarred. The high amounts of combustible methane released from anaerobic decomposition of organic matter can catch fire from a small spark, a lit match or a cigarette stub. The Bhalswa landfill site in North Delhi, for instance, is constantly on fire. Similar violations of landfill protocols are observed throughout Delhi; the permissible height of 15-20m is a history in the 48.5m landfill in Okhla and the 40m+ monuments in Gazipur and Bhalswa.

4. Landfill Rights

That civil and political rights are placed above socio-economic rights is the explicit reality of rag pickers in and around Delhi. The extent to which their human rights are violated is beyond measure. The saddening saga in this turns out to be the perpetual domino effect which haunts their lineage; children of these rag pickers are forced to live in inhumane conditions in dingy and densely populated slums and are forced to join the family profession soon.

Early and prolonged exposure to landfills leads to incomplete development – physical, mental and psychological. Such stories are an existential reality of Delhi rag pickers. Their violation of basic human rights, however, lends new lease to the longevity of the life of Delhi. Their seemingly insignificant work plays a more than significant role in separating reusable and recyclable material from the dumps of waste. Such is the irony of the situation – the educated intelligentsia, whose apparent colour blindness of green and blue dustbin, is corrected by the systematically disenfranchised members of the society, the rag pickers.

So, hence, the big question: How do we manage waste in a rapidly developing and over populated city? Enough emphasis cannot be laid on the importance of individual reduction and recycling of waste. Awareness drives, in terms of the direct impacts of over-consumption, need to hit home. Along the lines of state action, decentralisation of waste into regional pits with separation of organic and inorganic waste needs to be planned out. Unplanned landfills aren’t a long-term solution; in this particular case, it stands out to be a short-term disaster as well.

To play your part in the war against this assault on environmental sanctity, sign the petition.