Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Irrawaddy - A River Under Attack!

Last week, I had written an article on two Indian rivers called Manu and Deo which is under Endosulfan attack by illegal fishermen.  The pesticide, thrown into the river in huge quantity to catch fish, is polluting the river at an alarming speed, resulting in disappearance of marine species and high increase in waterborne diseases.

And now, here is a similar, disturbing trend: use of  mercury, acid and cyanide by gold prospectors is fast poisoning one of the most magnificent rivers in Asia: Irrawaddy.

According to local community media reports, in the Kachin state town of Bhamo, gold diggers are using high levels of mercury and cyanide  to detonate areas of the river bed. The deadly chemicals have turned the river in dark grey, triggered health problems among locals  such as excessive vomiting, stomach pain etc, while badly affecting marine life too.

Now, who are these gold diggers?

Officially, there are two companies - both privately owned: Thandar Shwe Zin and For Luck. These two companies have subcontracted the job to a number of other local diggers. Apparently, each of the small diggers pay about 1,150 USD to the companies. So, there is a lot of money to make!

To make up for what they spend, the diggers  - about 300 of them - go out on the river in mechanized boats, blow away the water and suck in the soil using use mercury, cyanide and acid. And while doing that, they also leave a trail of engine oil in the river.

The result is disastrous: Not so long ago, one could see dolphins in Bahmo area. Today there are none. Sometimes, large fish are seen floating on the river, dead. And, people living in the villages, who drink the river water, are frequently getting sick with the pollutants in the river.

I saw Irrawaddy in 2008 - just days before the cyclone struck the country. I stood by the river and thought," now, here was a river which is as mesmerizing as Brahmaputra. You could write a thousand poetry on it".

It's sad to hear of what the river has been now subjected to.

The UN Climate Summit is here. How about sending a new, serious call  from the summit, to conserve the water bodies, especially the rivers that are lifelines of millions?

Irrawaddy surely would benefit from it. So would the little Indian rivers like Manu and Deo.

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