In this twenty-eight archive story by Kristian Bertel, we are visiting India's most polluted river, the Yamuna.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
The Yamuna continues to be polluted with garbage while most sewage treatment facilities are underfunded or malfunctioning. In addition, the water in this river remains stagnant for almost nine months in a year, aggravating the situation. For Hindus, the Yamuna is not just a natural resource, but also one of the holiest rivers in India. In this photo the Yamuna River has been photographed in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.
The Yamuna continues to be polluted with garbage while most sewage treatment facilities are underfunded or malfunctioning. In addition, the water in this river remains stagnant for almost nine months in a year, aggravating the situation. For Hindus, the Yamuna is not just a natural resource, but also one of the holiest rivers in India. In this photo the Yamuna River has been photographed in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Yamuna River, India's most polluted river

In 1909 the waters of the Yamuna were distinguishable as clear blue, as compared to the silt-laden yellow of the Ganges. However, due to high density population growth and rapid industrialization today Yamuna is one of the most polluted rivers in the world, especially around New Delhi, the capital of India, which dumps about fiftyeight percent of its waste into the river. New Delhi generates 1,900 million litres per day of sewage. Though many attempts have been made to process it, the efforts have proven futile.

Yamuna continues to be polluted with garbage
Although the government of India has spent nearly 500 million dollars to clean up the river, the Yamuna continues to be polluted with garbage while most sewage treatment facilities are underfunded or malfunctioning. In addition, the water in this river remains stagnant for almost nine months in a year, aggravating the situation. Delhi alone contributes a lot of sewage in the river. The government of India over the next five years has prepared plans to rebuild and repair the sewage system and the drains that empty into the river. The Yamuna is the largest tributary of the Ganges River. Where it flows through Delhi, it's estimated that fiftyeight percent of the city's waste gets dumped straight into the river. Millions of Indians still rely on these murky, sewage-filled waters for washing, waste disposal and drinking water. The Yamuna River starts out clear as rainwater from a lake and hot spring at the foot of a glacier, 19,200 feet up in the Himalayas. But for much of its 853-mile length, it is now one of the world's most defiled rivers. Agricultural demand repeatedly depletes the river's flow. Rapid modernization of the Indian economy since the 1980s has added thousands of manufacturing plants to the Yamuna's watershed, with little thought given to how much water they take out or how much pollution they add back. And urbanization has roughly quintupled the population of New Delhi, from about 3.5 million people 30 years ago to more than 18 million today. In some places, the Yamuna is now so heavily exploited that broad swaths of riverbed lie naked and exposed to the sun for much of the year. In other places, the river is a sudsy, listless morass of human, industrial and agricultural wastes, literally an open sewer. Given that 60 million people depend on the river for bathing and drinking water, a protest might seem inevitable. The surprising thing, at least to untutored Western eyes, was that the leaders of the Yamuna march were not primarily political activists. They were sadhus, or holy men, devotees of the central Hindu hero and deity Krishna. They briefly shut down their temples along the river as part of the protest, and they added a colorful strand of religious belief to the familiar environmental language of oxygen content, turbidity and toxicity.

A holy river in India
When Mathura, one of the towns along the route, moved to end the blight of plastic shopping bags along the river banks. For Hindus, the Yamuna is not just a natural resource, but also one of the holiest rivers in India. She is a goddess, a giver of life and the chief lover of Krishna. So the protesters were motivated as much by faith as by environmental outrage. In the past they would have relied exclusively on prayers, incense and offerings of fresh flowers to practice seva, the Hindu ritual of loving service to the deity. But of necessity seva has lately also come to mean environmental action, working to restore life to a river now widely regarded as dead. The river seemed relatively healthy when he first moved to New Delhi almost thirty years ago. People were swimming in the river. You could drink the water. But the condition of the Yamuna deteriorated rapidly from that point as India began to modernize. There was clearly a lack of coordination, a lack of information and perhaps an ignorance of the aggregate impacts. But now there is no such excuse. Now we see the collective impact of what happened. The condition of the river is so dire that it has become impossible for anyone to ignore. The problems fall into five broad categories, which are lack of flow due to dams and heavy withdrawals for agricultural irrigation and other purposes at Delhi, where pollution authorities say the flow should be at least 285 cubic meters per second, it drops down in summer months to as little as five cubic meters per second. Contamination of the river with agricultural pesticides and herbicides. Toxic industrial wastes. Human wastes, with more than half the sewage in Delhi entering the river untreated and fecal coliform counts in places reaching over 100,000 per 100 milliliters which is 200 times the standard for water to be swimmable. And in the face of global warming the uncertain future of the dwindling Himalayan glaciers that are the source of the river. The creatures that depend on the river are clearly in trouble. The big river turtles that carry the goddess Yamuna in religious imagery have now largely vanished, and no one really knows the status of bird species that depend on the river. Aquatic life has also suffered and 500 river villages that were largely based on fishing in the 1970s must now earn their livelihood by other means. The effects of the river’s pollution on human health, though also inadequately studied, include a sharp spike in cases of hepatitis A and typhoid fever, according to recent work in New Delhi. Reliance on polluted river water is also a major factor in India's high infant mortality rate more than 50 deaths per 1,000 births. Pollution of the Yamuna could also have public health consequences worldwide.

More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of the Yamuna River in Agra. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.