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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Looking Thames to clean Yamuna: a lesson in building sewer system

In the 1850s,the Thames in London was so polluted and stinking that the Parliament had to be shifted away from the river,says Robert Oates,director of the Thames River Restoration Trust.

Written by Neha Sinha | New Delhi |
February 17, 2010 12:35:26 am

In the 1850s,the Thames in London was so polluted and stinking that the Parliament had to be shifted away from the river,says Robert Oates,director of the Thames River Restoration Trust.

A century and half on,the river is much cleaner and Britain,he says,is now investing in cleaning a tributary of the Thames,the Lee,ahead of the London Olympics in 2012.

While the Delhi government has said it cannot clean the Yamuna ahead of the Commonwealth Games this October,those linked to the Thames river cleaning and restoration project say the problem of pollution here is much larger,and thus the solutions also need to come faster.

Oates,whose Trust works with the British government and the Environment Agency of England and Wales to clean the Thames,says: “One of the things we have done is create tourism and sports opportunities along the Thames. People have to feel for the river and want to make it part of their lives. The Environment Agency,for example,collects fee for an yearly licence for angling.

“This (money) goes back into helping the river,and the sport of angling engages locals.”

He says two major steps to revive the Thames are creating embankments and privatising water supply. “Water distribution for drinking has been privatised in the Thames river basin,” Oates says. “Around 10 per cent of profits by the company goes for river restoration.”

Under a new project,stretches of land are now being identified to trap flood water,he says.

“Embankments were created along the Thames to prevent it from flooding. After the river was cleaned,property prices on the banks have gone up but the river still floods,and the water has to go somewhere. So,while it doesn’t flood in areas with embankment walls,it floods elsewhere.

“We are identifying patches of riverbank where we can create systems to trap flood water,like wetlands. This is a new approach towards the river.”

‘Delhi,yamuna’s problems bigger’
Around 150 years ago,“human activities” led to Thames being declared the first biologically dead river,Oates says,“But we have managed to revive the river since then. The problems in Yamuna are much larger — the Thames is only about a quarter of its length.

“The Industrial Revolution in England got over 150 years ago. India,on the other hand,is growing and probably experiencing an Industrial Revolution ten times (larger).

“But you now have the benefit of more knowledge.”

Oates says the Parliament in Victorian England was shifted in the 1850s due to the pollution and stink from the Thames: “Several diseases were also on the rise because of the state of the river. That is when an investment in creating sewers was made,and London benefits from the sewers even today.”

Besides scientific cleaning exercises,he says,it is essential to foster the river in people’s consciousness.

While Delhi has missed the deadline for cleaning the Yamuna before the Commonwealth Games,funds for an interceptor sewer project worth over Rs 1,000 crore are likely to be released soon under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Project.

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