The Sweet River
The brown water of the Mithi River swirled slowly as it drifted through the channel of high concrete and stone walls. On one side of the river there was a bustle of economic stimulus but on the other side children ran along the walls as we held our breath hoping they would not plunge into the polluted water. The English translation of Mithi form Hindu is sweet, which is very ironic considering the river’s condition. The water was brown from human and animal waste with plastic bottles, cups, wrappers, wood, styrofoam, cloth and about every piece of floating debris you could think of floating along with the slow current. Sewage water, which is composed of monsoon rain, urine, and anything else in the gutters of the narrow streets, sprayed into the river from large pipes built into the wall.
Our Reality Tours guide pointed out that the river separated the economic and residential sectors of Dharavi, the most densely populated slum in India. It is said that 800,000 people live in the slum and being only a little larger than a single square mile I would saw you can only imagine the sanitation issues, but you wouldn’t be able to. Waste covered the city and children defecated on mounds of garbage in the open instead of using toilets that get used 1,500 times a day by residents. The apartments are very small and most are around ten square meters. Within that little space families of four or five would often be living amongst each other with no toilet, shower, and only a few hours of running water a day.
Much of the human and animal waste drains right into the river, and we all know where rivers flow. The sea. Masses of waste and pollution flow right into the ocean unfiltered, as Dharavi is only a few miles away from open ocean. The pollution is so bad that people will not go swimming in the water surrounding the many miles of coastline near Mumbai’s western shores.
Mumbai originally started as a fishing community and is now amongst the world’s two thirds of saltwater fisheries that have been depleted. Pollution and overfishing account for the inability for fish species to make resurgences into their perspective environments. The pollution caused by the Mithi River is detrimental to the health of marine life in the immediate areas.
As a very passionate advocate for marine conservation the sight of such large amounts of pollution disturbed me. At the time I was unable to process the dire affect the community of Dharavi has through their discarding trash in the river. I felt numbed by the thought of the toxins and pollutants and the affect they would have on the already diminished fish stocks and marine life.