Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Flow of Money

From The Independent, Unholy Water: Delhi's rotting river: 

"On Delhi's sacred Yamuna River, beneath a wrought-iron bridge built by the British more than 100 years ago, the remains of the dead were falling on the living." 

The article goes on to say how children waiting below the bridge, like the girl in the picture, gather the bags of ashes and flowers after they fall and rip them open to collect the polythene. 

Despite the fact that the Yamuna is worshipped by those of the Hindu faith it is pumped full of sewage. "For the vast majority, the toxic black ribbon that slices through the east of the city ... is largely out of sight and out of mind. For those not forced to scrape their survival, there is little reason to visit the Yamuna, except for cremating the dead and scattering their remains according to Hindu tradition." (italics mine)

It is interesting to me that something involved in a holy tradition is not more protected, suffering because of more worldly concerns. 

"Manoj Misra, who heads... Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, or Save the Yamuna,... said that because the river received no fresh flow of clean water," due to a dam used to extract water for the city, "and yet received a huge daily input of sewage, the toxicity of the water was getting ever more concentrated."

The sewage apparently comes from corroded pipes that do not allow the waste to reach treatment plants,  not to mention those parts of the city that are not even connected to the main sewage system.

I wonder about this lack of proper infrastructure, especially in such a populated place, and looked for more information as to the divide between rich and poor in India. According to a 2006 Guardian article, water subsidies in India "skew benefits to the rich....While incomes are going up, public cash is not percolating downwards. A large part of the reason is the government, which cannot seem to funnel wealth generation into human development."

Of course, as in other countries, the problems do not lie solely with governmental mismanagement or corruption. This 2006 article in The Guardian discusses controversy surrounding Coca-Cola's misuse of water in countries like India, where supplies are limited. Such companies give token effort, and sometimes just words, towards investment in improving living conditions. 

Setting aside the problems these companies create when they abuse the environment and people directly, how far can we expect companies to go in terms of investment in local issues? I am thinking specifically of infrastructure issues, such as those corroded sewage pipelines in Delhi.

On the positive side, those living in rural communities in India are getting help from NGOs like WaterAid, which is building latrines and initiating education programs to teach people about hygiene. What might be useful is if more huge multi-nationals invested in NGOs already working in the areas near their factories or plants. This may save the money from being misdirected by corrupt or inept governments.