This week’s edition of What’s Up With Water includes:
- The closure of a copper smelting plant in, Tamil Nadu, India.
- Water stress in England.
- Melting glaciers in the Himalayas.
- Groundwater contamination in Nigeria.
I’m Eileen Wray-McCann, for Circle of Blue, and here’s What’s up with Water,
a condensation of the world’s water news.
Officials in India’s Tamil Nadu state permanently
closed a copper smelting plant after 13 people died in protests
against its environmental damage.
The Sterlite Copper smelting plant was India’s second-
largest and run by the global metals and mining company Vedanta, based in London. Built 22 years ago in the
coastal city of Thootukudi, the plant produced
metals such as copper, aluminum and zinc, along with chemicals
including sulphuric acid and phosphoric acid.
Residents and environmental advocates say its emissions polluted
the air and water and sickened people. An inspection in 2011 found
high levels of toxins in the groundwater nearby. In 2013, the plant had
a sulphur dioxide gas leak. Sterlite had applied for an
expansion of its facilities, but the Tamil Nadu
Pollution Control Board refused. Critics of the plant said the company
nevertheless continued construction, and residents protested for
months, seeking a permanent shutdown of the facility.
Last Tuesday, thousands of demonstrators in
Thootukudi marched toward a government office on the 100th day of
protests. Blockades led to confrontations with police and violence
ensued. Alleging self-defense, police shot at the protesters, killing ten
people. Three more died in the days that followed.
This Monday, Reuters news agency reported a new gathering, with a
very different emotion. About a hundred people joined at the police
barricades in front of the smelting plant’s entrance to express relief
and shout their thanks as the district’s main administrator oversaw
the official sealing of the plant.
The head of Vedanta’s India copper division said the
company would take legal action to reopen the plant and that it
intends to build bridges with the community.
England’s Environment Agency warns that water overuse and leaking
pipes put the nation’s rivers and wildlife at risk, and threaten future
The agency’s report says that many water sources in England are
already stressed. With increased population and changes in the
climate, many places face significant water shortages by the 2050s,
particularly in Britain’s populous southeast.
England’s leaky pipes lose three billion litres of water a day, which is
as much water as 20 million people use in an average day. Water is
also lost through inefficient household use.
In all, one-third of the water taken from the environment is wasted
due to leaks, treatment losses and inefficient use.
The report says that water demands by industry, agriculture and
households are already unsustainable. Over a quarter of
groundwater resources are over-allocated, as are nearly a fifth of
surface water sources, such as rivers.
Between 6 and 15% of rivers are in poor condition, including the
majority of chalk streams, which are a unique and valuable habitat.
Overdrawing the environment harms wildlife and damages wetlands
that are also key to water management.
Climate change is expected to alter river flows and temperature and
humidity patterns. As these conditions affect wildlife, they could also
support an increase in diseases such as dengue fever and West Nile
Virus that are spread by mosquitoes.
Even under best-case scenarios, the Environment Agency sees water
stress for the next generation. It is calling for a shift in attitudes
toward water use, innovations from industry, investments in
infrastructure and new ways to use water wisely at home.
In the mountainous Ladakh region of India’s Kashmir state,
rising temperatures are melting Himalayan glaciers faster, with
dangerous consequences for thousands of people below.
Data from the India Meteorology Department show that over the last
35 years, the minimum temperature in Ladakh increased
by nearly 1 degree Celsius in the winter and half a degree Celsius in
the summer. The data also show that precipitation from November to
As the temperature goes up, glaciers melt faster, and the rivers they
supply grow wider, degrading scarce grazing lands and disrupting
Snowfall has declined, and the timing of its fall has changed. Snowfall
closer to summer weather is less likely to freeze, leading to increased
risk of avalanches or flash flooding.
Sudden rainfall and glacial melting also contribute to floods, which
have become an annual threat to villages along rivers. In the past
eight years, hundreds have died or gone missing due to rapid
overflows. In 2014, over half a million people were trapped when their
homes were submerged under 18 feet of water for three weeks.
Local administrators say that their response to unpredictable weather
is usually prompted by and limited to a specific calamity. Examples
are plans to contain rivers through dredging or banking, or the
construction of freezing ponds to preserve water supplies for summer
use. The state government recognizes the impacts of extreme
climate-induced events, but in Ladakh, there are still no
long-term plans to adapt to what one official called an awakening to a
new view of nature.
In Nigeria, 90 percent of the groundwater in the Ogoni
region is unfit for human consumption, due to contamination by oil
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris reported last week
from the village of Bodo in the Ogonilands of southern Nigeria. There, oil coats the waterways, and
aquatic life is dying. In the Kokani area, there is almost
no marine life left, and the daily catch – a small amount of shellfish –
is infused with crude oil that resists all efforts to wash it away.
Residents have been sickened with the debilitating and painful effects
of pollution poisoning, and many have died. But they can’t go
elsewhere because land is scarce and costly. Instead, they wait until
the tide recedes, giving access to a freshwater spring that is usually
submerged. They have an hour each day to gather all their water for
drinking and cooking before the tide, and the oil, returns. They have
been doing this for ten years.
Activists have tried to shut down the oil operations for a long time, but
have had no success in changing conditions they say are simply too
drastic to be ignored. The pollution is moving inland, damaging
agriculture. In some areas, benzene in the water is 900 times over
the allowable limit.
The government has talked about remediation efforts, and says that
getting clean water to residents is a priority. But, says
Idris, no one in communities like Bodo knows when the
water will arrive.
And that’s What’s Up With Water…We’d like to share what’s up where you are –
Tweet us with your water news: @circleofblue #whatsupwithwater.
Eileen Wray-McCann is a writer, director and narrator who co-founded Circle of Blue. During her 13 years at Interlochen Public Radio, a National Public Radio affiliate in Northern Michigan, Eileen produced and hosted regional and national programming. She’s won Telly Awards for her scriptwriting and documentary work, and her work with Circle of Blue follows many years of independent multimedia journalistic projects and a life-long love of the Great Lakes. She holds a BA and MA radio and television from the University of Detroit. Eileen is currently moonlighting as an audio archivist and enjoys traveling through time via sound.