Thursday, March 18, 2010

Indians try to clean filth from river in New Delhi

Hundreds of volunteers wearing gloves and face masks picked up garbage along the Yamuna River on Wednesday to offset what they say is government inaction that has left the waterway a putrid sewer.

The volunteers hope the Commonwealth Games coming to New Delhi in October — the athletes' village is located on the river bank — will finally spur action to clean up what has become an embarrassment to the government and a public health crisis for the city.

The river water looks dark with a foul smell and some human waste flowing from city drains.

A tributary of one of India's main rivers, the Ganges, the Yamuna is small but swells during monsoon rains. Hindu worshippers bathe in the river during religious festivals, but not many people swim there.

Nearly 800 people, mostly young students, worked to clean the river and its banks early Wednesday. Some of them got into motorized boats to scoop the filth from the river in barrels.

"This is not river water, this is gutter water," said Sangeeta Anand, a spokeswoman for the Art of Living Foundation, sponsor of the cleanup campaign.

The educational and humanitarian group, founded in 1982 by spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, plans to clean the river banks and build walkways and parks on the riverfront ahead of the Commonwealth Games.

"This is a mass citizen campaign to motivate people to become aware of what they are putting into the river — plastic, toxic wastes and all that sewage," Anand told The Associated Press.

Officials say factories are ignoring regulations and dumping untreated sewage and industrial pollution, turning toxic the river that gives the capital much of its drinking water. The corruption and bureaucracy that derails many public initiatives in India have hampered previous cleanups.

The Yamuna's water is chemically treated before being supplied to Delhi's nearly 16 million residents.

The New Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment blamed the condition of the river in part on the improper placement of treatment plants, along with fights between water-starved states over managing the river water.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

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