Drone captures toxic ‘bubble bath’ in sacred river in India

India has many sacred rivers, but that doesn’t mean they always get respect. The Yamuna River is so polluted this week that devotees had to wade into a kind of noxious bubble bath to celebrate the festival of Chhatt Pooja. Watch this drone video that shows the Yamuna’s toxic foam.

Thousands of worshippers plunged into the Yamuna, despite the obvious signs that something was wrong.

The foam appears to be the result of untreated sewage. Detergent, industrial effluents, decomposing vegetation, and bacteria all combine to give the river an almost wintry look. But the odor is more than enough to indicate that this is no alpine stream.

“It’s a sewer,” worshipper Ravi Shankar Gupta told the New York Times. “But the sun deity says: ‘Even if you stand in a gutter and make an offering, I will protect you for the rest of the year.'”

Chhath Puja is a four-day-long festival dedicated to the sun god Lord Surya. 

The Times says New Delhi treats about two-thirds of its sewage, but hundreds of millions of gallons are dumped into the Yamuna untreated as the city’s population grows. Authorities say even short-term exposure to the foam can cause skin irritation and allergies. If the stuff gets ingested, it can lead to gastrointestinal issues and even diseases like typhoid. Long-term exposure may cause neurological issues.

Devotees bathe in a horribly polluted Yamuna river Photo: Reuters

The Delhi government sent out boats in an attempt to sweep the foam away and workers tried to hose it down.

Drone video of the Yamuna’s toxic foam

We’ve seen lots of cases where drones have been useful to spot pollution. But there’s no need for a bird’s eye view of the Yamuna, as the problem is perfectly obvious at river level.

“The river in Delhi’s stretch is an ecologically dead river,” says Bhim Singh Rawat, from the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People. “It doesn’t have fish or freshwater birds. That has been the case for years now.”

Devotee Gunjan Devi says she has no choice.

“The water is extremely dirty but we don’t have many options,” she told Reuters. “It is a ritual to take a bath in a water body so we have come here to bathe.”

“I am not worried,” Kiran Devi told the New York Times. She had not eaten in three days and would break her fast only when the festival ends. “Once I go in the water, it will be fine.”

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