Faecal Attraction: There’s no such thing as a convenient flush…

Out of sight is out of mind.

That’s how it works for most of us. Especially when the subject is what we do in the privacy of our toilets and then just flush away.

But there is no such thing as a Convenient Flush — it’s all linked to how waste, including sewage, is disposed of. Or not.

And what goes around, even out of our sight, comes around — turning up in the least expected ways! Like faecal matter in our drinking water.

A new film produced by the New Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) probes the link between sewage disposal and river water pollution in India — specifically, the River Yamuna, part of the massive Indo-Gangetic river system.

The film by Pradip Saha is titled Faecal Attraction: Political Economy of Defecation. It is accompanied CSE’s latest publication Sewage Canal: How to Clean the Yamuna.

The book and the film expose the political economy of defecation, where the rich are subsidised to defecate in convenience and the poor pay for pollution with their ill health because of dirty water.

It begins by asking two simple questions: Where does your water come from? What do you do with your shit?

Watch the answers – some amusing, others absurd – in this 3-min trailer on YouTube:

Backed by scientific data, CSE shows how India’s 14 major rivers, as well as 55 minor and many small rivers have all been reduced to sewers. They receive millions of litres of sewage, industrial residue and agricultural waste from the cities and towns through which they flow.

Delhi and Agra together account for 90 per cent of the pollution in the River Yamuna, a major tributary of the Ganges. Yamuna is one of the most polluted rivers in the world, especially around New Delhi, the capital of India, which dumps about 57% of its waste into the river.

When Yamuna flows by Delhi, the city extracts gallons of fresh water for drinking and irrigation. What is given in return to the river is only excreta – sewage, and industrial and agricultural waste. This sewage is (supposed to be) collected, transported, and assembled for treatment (cleaning), and then flown back to the river. In reality, what goes back is far from clean… The irony is that the city has 40 per cent of the entire sewage treatment infrastructure in the country with only five per cent of the country’s population! And still, Yamuna is unclean.

Cartoon courtesy CSE India

Though numerous attempts have been made to clean it, the efforts have proven to be futile. Although the government of India has spent nearly $500 million to clean up the river, the river continues to be polluted with garbage while most sewage treatment facilities are underfunded or malfunctioning.

“As these rivers die a slow death, the sole blame for their pathetic condition lies with human beings who have always treated these water bodies as their personal dumping zones,” says CSE.

Anil Agarwal, founder director of CSE, believed that a “society is known by the water it keeps”. “The health of a river…reflects the very health of the human society, its ability to live harmoniously with its environment,”, he said.

In that sense, things are very seriously wrong with not just the Yamuna, but river systems across India.

Read CSE Director Sunita Narain’s presentation on the River Yamuna pollution and clean up options

Read CSE Press release on river pollution