Water makes a civilisation. The great civilisations of Indus Valley, Egypt and Mesopotamia were born and reached their peak next to a water source, a river. Our ancients were well aware of the role of clean and healthy water in the health of a society and took great care for its effective utilisation and management. Take, for example, the Indus valley civilisation. Archaeological finds reveal the most advanced systems of water management and sewage disposal in the towns of Indus Valley.
Most of the excavations found around the cities of Harappa, Mohenjo-daro and Dholavira reveal the obsession of Indus valley people with water and hygiene. They prayed to the rivers every day and had well-constructed wells, tanks, public baths, a wide drinking system, a city sewage system and had even developed flush toilets!
Baths and Wells
It is estimated that about 700 wells were built in Mohenjo-daro, an average of one well for every third house. They were constructed with tapering bricks that were strong enough to last for centuries. The cities too had strong walls to resist damages due to floods.
One of the best-known excavations is the Great Bath at Mohenjo-daro measuring 40x30x8 meters. The sidewalls were made from fine bricks and bitumen layer to prevent water from seeping into the walls. A nearby well provided water which could be emptied through a large drain.
The Archaeological Survey of India has revealed that one third of the area of the city of Dholavira in the Rann of Kutch, was devoted to collection and distribution of fresh water. The city had the giant reservoir (capacity: 325000 cubic yards of water) that collected water from the neighbouring streams and was connected to a network of small and big reservoirs that distributed water to the entire city all year round.
Town planners of Mohenjo-daro had built the world’s first systematic central drainage system that connected every household in the city. Every house had a drinking water well with a private bathroom. Earthenware waste pipes carried sewage from each home into covered channels that ran along the centres of the city’s main streets into the nearby agricultural fields, rivers, or streams. The drains took waste from kitchens, bathrooms and indoor toilets. The main drains even had movable stone slabs as inspection points. The houses had excellent plumbing facilities for provision of water.
Cut to present day. If water can make a civilization, it can destroy it as well, which is what is happening in India right now. Today our rivers and lakes are drying up, groundwater tables are going down, the rains are becoming scarce and the little water that is there is contaminated with all kinds of toxins and wastes. In the absence of fresh water, people have to resort to recycling used water for all purposes – bathing, drinking, agriculture, etc. – which often enough is not adequately treated and is contributing to a plethora of diseases. While people of Indus Valley thrived off the waters of Indus, people of India are literally living off the waters of sewage. And this problem of clean drinking water is not just restricted to the hinterlands, but very much in the heart of metropolitan cities.
The flip side of rapid urbanization in Bangalore has been growing mountains of waste, solid and liquid – over 1000 MLD of waste water flows out of the city everyday into the 3 valleys of Vrishabhavathi, Koramangala and Hebbal. The lakes and rivers having dried up and in the absence of proper drainage, the most developed areas of the city have to rely on private tankers and site-specific sewage treatment plants. The treated water fails to meet the Urban Reuse Standards and is used for activities such as toilet flushing, gardening, washing of roads and yards etc., ultimately finding its way to and polluting the ground water table, and depleted fresh water sources lakes and bore wells/shallow wells all over Bangalore.
As many as 24.8% of Delhi’s households don’t get piped treated water. In fact, several colonies get water that is as good as sewage. Delhi’s Economic Survey 2012-13 shows that the Capital has a network of about 11,350 km of water supply mains, of which, a significant portion is as old as 40-50 years and prone to leakages that cause huge losses. Also, the reach of the network is not enough. What is more, the little water that is available is far from being fit for any use, leave alone drinking, as per a Hindustan Times report. Hazard Centre had carried out studies for groundwater and tap water quality and found that of 74 samples from groundwater; only two were fit for drinking. In the absence of safe water supply, some have to burn a hole in the pocket by resorting to mineral water bottles for everyday use, while others succumb to diseases like skin-infection, diarrhoea and stomach-ache upon consumption and use of sewer-mixed water supplies.
In your food
As water scarcity mounts, farmers in the semi-urban areas are increasingly using sewage or waste water to grow veggies, cereals and fodder. The big concern is a large part of the sewage discharge from the urban centres is untreated, thereby triggering contamination risks on health and environmental issues. “The area under waste water irrigation is on the rise in India at an estimated one million hectares,” Mr. Avinash Chand Tyagi, Secretary-General, International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID), an inter-governmental body. What is alarming is that, “Only 37-38 per cent of the sewage is treated in India due to inadequate capacity,” Mr. J.S. Samra, CEO of the National Rainfed Area Authority under the Planning Commission. The low government investments in waste water treatment and management and the absence of any national guidelines for safe disposal and application in agriculture and with no impact assessment of waste water irrigation in terms of soil, groundwater, food quality and health risks, pollutants are spread all over.
This is the state of kaliyug, where despite living in the heart of the spiritual capital of the world, that is India, everything we eat, drink, breathe and live on is saturated with toxins and contaminants. And the same contamination permeates our mind and body, not letting us understand our own culture and roots and so we further resort to unhealthy practices and deteriorate our environment and living further, and it becomes a vicious circle. Sauchh or cleanliness is the first yama, as mentioned in Patanjali Yogsutras. In the absence of sauchh, it is impossible for a being to understand the Vedas or the advanced concepts as laid by our ancestors, who had achieved pinnacles of civilisation. No wonder the Vedas today are being laughed at and the majority is living under the false impression that we are the descendants of apes. If our ancestors with their sophisticated town planning and resource management were apes, then maybe we should all strive to reverse the evolution cycle to become apes once again.