How Water Pollution in India Kills Millions


SEATTLE, Washington — India has more than 1.2 billion people, but only a little over 30% of its population lives on less than $1.25 a day. Around 80% of India’s water is severely polluted because people dump raw sewage, silt and garbage into the country’s rivers and lakes. This has led to water being undrinkable and the population having to rely on illegal and expensive sources.

Each year, more than 1.5 million Indian children die from diarrhea. Out of the entire Indian population, experts predict that 40% of people may not have a connection to a clean water source by 2030. So, how did water pollution in India get so out of hand and how can Indians reverse the damage?

Water Pollution in India

India suffers from increased urbanization, unauthorized slums and the absence of pipe planning. Estimations suggest that by 2030, 600 million Indians might live in slums due to the ever-growing population. Because of that, tanker mafias are prominent. Tanker mafias are business owners that hold septic tanks that illegally sell water from lakes, wells and groundwater. They charge around $50 per 1,000 liters, and for most Indians, it is unaffordable.

Between the years of 2001 and 2012, 3,245 hectares of lakes dissipated in the city of Hyderabad. The water recedes by nine feet a year on average in southern New Delhi — all because of tanker mafias. Oil leaks, inadequate treatment of waste, poor sanitation and open defecation are the leading causes of water pollution in India. By drinking dirty water, the human digestive system suffers from harmful bacteria that disrupts the balance of the gut, causing diarrhea and other diseases.

The Consequences of India’s Poor Water Quality

Around 70% of wastewater goes untreated and each day, more than 40 million liters of wastewater flows directly into India’s lakes, rivers and ocean. Eventually, contaminated water also enters the groundwater. Because of this, proper waste management and sewage pollution cannot occur, upsetting the irrigation system. The crops are not able to grow because of the infectious bacteria and disease in the water. Because of the poor infrastructure and absence of sewage control, 38 million Indians suffer from waterborne diseases like typhoid, cholera and hepatitis every year. Over the last decade, the frequency of these illnesses remained at the same level. 

Worldwide, waterborne diseases cause more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis and measles combined in children under 5-years-old. Water pollution in India not only harms people’s health and food security, but it also contributes to the decrease in India’s GDP and economic stagnation. Not only does GDP growth reduce by one-third when the pollution in the country’s waterbodies exceeds a certain limit, but agricultural revenues lower by 9% in the districts that are close to industrial territories. The degradation of the environment, including water pollution in India, leads to a loss of $80 billion annually. Meanwhile, estimates determine that the health costs to treat waterborne diseases are almost $9 billion per year.

India’s Action Steps to Eradicate Water Pollution

India is taking several steps to rebalance the quality of its water source, from flocculation and reuse of industrial water to the contributions that local Indian startups are making. In Chennai, a city in Eastern India, industrial water reuse rose from 36,000 to 80,000 cubic meters in 3 years, from 2016 to 2019. VA Tech Wabag, a water company quartered in Chennai, also built numerous water reuse plants all across India. As of 2020, VA Tech Wabag contributed immensely to the production of more than 18 million cubic meters of clean water every day, which has positively impacted almost 100 million people globally.

VA Tech Wabag also specifically focused on installing a water treatment plan in Panjrapur, Maharashtra, through implementing a combination of techniques like flocculation, skimming and filtration. To reduce the turbidity and colloids in the water, which can cause E. Coli, dysentery, cholera and salmonella, VA Tech Wabag uses flocculants to clean the water. VA Tech Wabag’s project in Maharashtra has a large capacity of 455,000 cubic meters of water per day. As a result, it will enable more than 112 million people to have access to clean water.

In Gujarat, a state of more than 70 million citizens, the government launched its Reuse of Treated Waste Water Policy, which aims to drastically decrease the use of the Narmada River. It will install 161 sewage treatment plants all across Gujarat in order for industrial and construction sectors to use the treated water. Evaluations offer that in 2015, the Indian government installed almost 16,000 reverse osmosis systems in Karnataka and 281 solar electrolytic defluoridation plants in Madhya Pradesh.

Citizens Develop Innovative and Inexpensive Water Treatment Improvements

Large revenue companies and India’s government are not the only two making positive changes. Anto P. Biju and Thomas Cyriac, two former engineering students at St. Joseph’s College of Engineering and Technology in Pala, India, invented a water filter that costs less than a dollar. Smaller than the size of an index finger, it is able to filter dangerous microorganisms. Unlike other filter cartridges, this cartridge consists of organic products, not synthetic fibers.

Water pollution in India has taken away people’s lives, especially the lives of children who are particularly vulnerable to waterborne infections. The accomplishments India has made should not be a stop in its battle with the water crisis, but only the beginning because many still cannot access clean water.

– Anna Sharudenko
Photo: Flickr


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