Mithi River: the pollution of poverty
The degradation of the Mithi River has become an icon of water pollution, a definite and poignant image of the worst end for waste caused by human activity, especially that of the poorest neighborhoods. The micro documentary Plastic River, finalist of the We Are Water Film Festival 5, covers the best images of this indecency. Finding out the reasons for this disaster is as important as learning from the efforts made to solve it.
The degradation of the Mithi River has become an icon of water pollution.
In Hindi, Mithi means “sweet”, but the water in the short river that flows through the city of Mumbai ceased to be sweet decades ago. Floating garbage started to cover its surface, barely allowing the water to be seen and the beaches around its mouth were considered the most polluted in the world 10 years ago. Now, citizens and the government fight to recover the degraded environment of the most populated city in India.
Until the late 19th century, the Mithi River was actually a water course with water flowing only in the monsoon season. The dam that created Lake Powai was built in 1799 and the one for Lake Vihar in 1986; both allowed the Mithi River to have water during the dry season and controlled the violent floods caused by monsoons.
From river to open sewer
Mithi means “sweet”, but the water in the short river that flows through the city of Mumbai ceased to be sweet decades ago.
All this was done on the island of Salsette to provide drinking water for the growing Mumbai. The development of the city was rampant across the 619 square kilometers of the island. After India’s independence in 1947, Mumbai became the financial center of the country and a focal point for migrants, which generated slums like the one in Dharavi, south of the Mithi River, which has been considered the largest in Asia, spreading out on more than 216 hectares.
The 18 km of the Mithi riverbed became an open sewer where wastewater and industrial waste.
The 18 km of the Mithi riverbed became an open sewer where wastewater and industrial waste from cotton textile mills and illegal activities such as washing boats and oil drums were dumped. The discharge of unauthorized dangerous waste in the 1970s was compounded by plastic pollution that clogged many drains and turned the floods caused by monsoon rains into a hazard for the population. Lakes Powai and Vihar became unhealthy and the water treatment plants had to be constantly refurbished until urban water supplies had to come from further and further away.
Plastic River, by Maaz (India), finalist in the Micro-documentary category of the We Art Water Film Festival 5.
As usual, India’s rapid and enormous economic growth has highlighted the disasters generated by the inability of governance, overwhelmed by the imbalances of development. But also carry an important learning burden for the rest of the world. The deterioration of the Mithi River must become history. Every city in the world has something to learn.