Archives for category: Industrial pollution

Tom Hazuka:

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Our boat trip from Kochi inland to the Periyar River headwaters was emblematic of India as a whole: abundant natural beauty, tainted by human greed and corruption.  Our guide, Geo Jose, explained that the backwaters near Kochi are officially a protected area, yet high-rise apartments continue to be built on illegal landfills.  The government is at best incompetent, and at worst complicit in the process.

Geo told us the picturesque Chinese nets capture nowhere near as many fish as they used to, a fact that became grimmer as our boat motored closer to the heart of darkness.  The reference might seem hyperbolic, but I don’t think so.  Though we were traveling through staggeringly lovely country, our goal was a massive complex of some 242 factories that bring numerous low-paying jobs to the area, but at a dreadful human and environmental cost.  Not only have the fish numbers been drastically reduced, those that remain are likely unsafe to eat.

A local environmental activist detailed the myriad health problems of residents caused by the factories’ pollution of land, air and water.  As he talked, in the smoggy distance we saw waterfront factories belching thick smoke.  Even from the boat we could smell it.  The activist described the Catch-22 (or is Kafka a better comparison?) situation whereby the government owns the factories, yet the government is in charge of enforcing pollution laws the government put into place.  Folks who complain receive the same mindless response that Americans get when they decry “right to work” laws: What do you have against jobs?

The Kerala backwaters are among the most lovely places on earth, and I feel incredibly privileged to have seen them.  Unfortunately, though, despite Kerala’s accurate depiction of itself as “God’s Own Country,” it is also, as my wife Christine sadly puts it, “Man’s Own Mess.”

Nate Sprague:

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Now that I have had some time to relax and recover from the jetlag, I find myself already missing India.  I am still full of excitement from the feelings that I got from the trip, and recounting the story to so many people has helped me solidify my feelings about it more and more.  I still can’t believe that it’s over, the whole two and a half weeks seem to have just flew by.  But all in all, here are my reactions now that I’m back.  India to me is a place that is absolutely loaded with potential – potential to grow, potential to develop, create, and expand, but also huge potential to destroy.  During our time in Kerala we studied many different aspects of the development that has occurred there.  There have been tremendous strides made in social movements (equal pay for similar jobs as in Tata, free health-care for all, free education, etc.) which have made it a truly remarkable place.  However, I also saw many of the tremendous side effects that development, as well as globalization, had on the place at large.  I mentioned the huge levels of pollution in my last blog, and there also seems to be a unanimous turning of the other cheek to these issues.  During one of our group discussions, we recognized that India, being so young in her development, really has the chance to do things right, and to set a global example of how development should be brought about.  I hope that people like the fishermen win their struggle to retain their traditional, sustainable ways of life, and that if development does continue, the four elements of successful development are followed – sustainability, equitability, participation, and transparency.  I have been truly touched by a people so giving, willing to share so much even when so little is had.  Also so intelligent, the students we came in contact with were tremendously dedicated to their studies.  Overall, Kerala was an experience that has changed me for forever.

Jeremy Truex:

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Today was a pretty laid back, yet interesting day for our trip. Our morning started downstairs in the dining room of our homestay, with a nice home cooked breakfast of juice, toast, and eggs which were all delicious. After breakfast we dropped off our laundry to the owners and got our belongings ready for our trip of the day. We headed out at about 930 this morning on the bus, and after not being able to take the ferry to the location we were trying to go, so we had to drive around the bay to where our boat for our trip was. We arrived at the harbor about 20 minutes later, grabbed some water, and loaded on to the covered boat for a tour down the river, as well as a lecture on how the development of the area has affected the environment.

Once on the boat, our guide explained to us that all development was banned due a wetland protection act to prevent the destruction by the creation of buildings. Unfortunately, private contractors have bought land and are allowed to build close to the water due to a loophole in the law, letting them build these structures if they are within a certain distance of the main road. Also, we noted that there were many fishing nets that were apparently set up by the Chinese a few centuries back, and the process is still continued today.

Along our long journey down the river, we saw many docks that were at the end of roads are behind people’s homes. Attached to these docks were small boats, some motorized and some standard paddle boats that were used for traveling and fishing. Also, with the boats were these circular saucers like things, which were apparently boats. We saw these things in the water with people actually fishing in them and they proved to work very well.

After about 2 hours, we reached the destination where an environmental activist was supposed to meet us. Due to our boat running late he had left, but he returned shortly after our arrival. He spoke to us about the industrial plants that were right down the river from where we were docked, stating that over the past 30 years they have been dumping in and polluting the water in the river, affecting the health of everyone in the area. He said that over 10 million fish have been killed off and the amount of fish remaining is very scarce, as well as that the water is nowhere near acceptable to drink.

The people in the area are pushing for the factories to leave or change the way they run their production, as well as restitution for damages and health problems caused by the establishment and operation of the factories. However, we were told that the factories do supply fresh drinking water for the locals so that they can safely have something to drink.

The activist said that the 240 industries are worried about the protestors, not just because of the environmental and health issues they are talking about, but also that they are afraid that they are agents or spies for DOW chemical. Because of this, and the fact that many of the factories are government owned, and bring in many of their employees from outside of Kerala, they are trying to label the group as eco-terrorists to get them out of the way.

Michael Weiss:

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Today we went on a riverboat and heard a talk about how there is an exploitation of and manipulation of laws by land mafias. This in regards to building new apartments on land that was previously protected under law from being built upon but because of these groups generally ignore the law and sometimes blatantly build illegally. Land is a big issue here because of these kinds of special interest groups and more so because of all the pollution that has been happening as the state modernizes. Near where we were there were 242 factories and 48 of them have heavily polluted the river to the point that the surrounding area does not have fresh drinking water. So in a bit of irony the companies supply the locals with 400 L of fresh water a day because they ruined the water of these poor people. We also met an activist who has been agitating for the last twenty years and he told us about how in regards to the land grabs by the mafias and people being forced off their land. He even cited a case where they helped families get their land and this was a great case of the little people winning against the big evil corporations.