Chennai’s perennial source of stench, disease

Chennai's battle with the polluted river continues for more than two decades.


A mosquito menace

Sowmya Raju

Chennai: When someone talks of Chennai, the first things that come to people’s mind are the Marina beach, Mahabalipuram, Spencer Plaza, Bharatnatyam, the various Temples, and so on. But one thing that has sullied the fair image of the 500-year-old city is the “black” Adayar River. The Adayar River, which starts near Chembarambakkam Lake in the Kanchipuram district, is one of three rivers that flow through Chennai. This river eventually joins the Bay of Bengal at the Adyar estuary. The 42.5-km-long river contributes to Chennai's estuarine ecosystem.

This river that flows right under the Ekkatuthangal flyover has not seen a drop of fresh water in the past two decades. One can hardly breathe when they are near the river; the stench of the polluted sewage is a nightmare for the passers-by. According to reports, 20 feet of solid waste has settled at the bottom of the river.

The lifeless river

Wastewater from households and small industries near the locality has been discharged into the river for several years, and the water body, which used to be a hotspot for marine life and migratory birds, has had nothing but flies and mosquitoes in the past 20 years. Marine life has become now extinct and there is no scope for any new marine life in the next few years if the river is not revived.

“It is impossible to believe that this used to be a freshwater lake used for drinking and cooking purposes before Independence. Whenever we cross that place now, we can’t even breathe because the smell is awful. Sometimes I take the longer route to work just to avoid the stench of this river,” said a pedestrian.

The State government and the city corporation have failed to come up with a solution to restore the river. Being polluted for almost two decades, this waterbody has affected every residential house on its banks. The river water, which is mostly sewage, has now got mixed with the groundwater, and most households close to the river are facing major issues concerning the quality of water they access.

A bank for new diseases.

“Because of improper sewerage lines, sewage has now got mixed with the groundwater. We get sewage from taps in our bathrooms and kitchens, and that is a major health concern,” said Lavanya, a homemaker. “Another annoying contribution of this river is the mosquitoes and insects that breed nearby. It is common in our family for each of us to fall sick one after another owing to diseases such as dengue, malaria, typhoid, etc., caused by unhygienic water and mosquitoes,” she added.

The government has initiated some measures in the past five years. Compound walls have been constructed around the river to prevent the water from flooding the roads and nearby houses during heavy rains. Steps have also been taken to move the people residing just on the banks of the river bank to safer and hygienic neighbourhoods. The government should focus on restoring the river by banning the inflow of waste into it or setting up a wastewater management system before any water is discharged into the river.

Photos by Sowmya Raju (PG '22).

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