Ganges: sewers making water quality of India’s great river worse

Ganges: sewers could be making water quality of India’s great river worse

Celebrations for Kumbh Mela, 2019.  EPA -EFE/Rajat Gupta

The Ganges is a lifeline for millions of people who live within its catchment as a source of water, transport and food. During the Hindu pilgrimage known as Kumbh Mela the Ganges plays host to the largest human gathering on Earth as 120 m people arrive to bathe in the river over 49 days.

Despite its tremendous spiritual significance, the Ganges is also notorious for having some of the most polluted water in the world. For 79% of the population of the Ganges catchment, their nearest river fails sewage pollution standards for crop irrigation. Some 85% of the population live near water that isn’t safe for bathing and Allahabad – where Kumbh Mela takes place in 2019 – is one of those places.

Our own research suggests that as the number of people living in nearby cities increases, the problem with water quality in the Ganges worsens. Urban populations in the Ganges catchment contribute around 100 times more microbial pollution per head to the river than their rural counterparts. This means that untreated sewage discharged from a sewer appears worse for river water quality than sewage discharge where there are no sewers at all.

The waters of the Ganges catchment are vital for life here at Jahangira Island, but pollution is a health risk. Jack Wickes/Flikr, CC BY-ND


When we examined 10 years of water quality data we found that the concentration of fecal coli forms – a common pollution indicator found in human feces – increased when the density of people living upstream increased. This makes sense: more people means more poo.

But we also found that people living in cities in India contribute more pollution per person than those in rural areas – how much more depends on the population density. A person living in an area in India with 1,000 people per km², a density similar to central London, contributes on average 100 times more pollution to the nearest river than they would in an area with 100 people per km² – say, rural Devon in the UK.

So why does it appear that a person living in an Indian city produces more sewage pollution than someone living in the countryside?

Of course, people in the cities are unlikely to actually contribute significantly more feces than those in rural communities. Instead, it’s probably sewers that are to blame. In cities, extensive sewage networks efficiently flush sewage to the river, whereas in rural areas more people defecate in the open or in pit latrines. This means feces in rural areas are less likely to be washed into the river and the bacteria and viruses they carry are more likely to die in situ.

Predicted sewage pollution across the Ganges catchment including Allahabad – the site of the Kumbh Mela. Milledge et al., 2018Author provided.


As the population density of a place increases, sewers become more common. Sewage removal is essential for the protection of public health, but without effective treatment, as is typically the case in the Ganges catchment, it comes at the cost of increased river pollution and waterborne diseases for people living downstream.

It’s therefore clear that water quality in the Ganges is a more complex and widespread problem than previously thought. We’d expected that cities, with their more advanced sewage management, would be better for the river. What we found was the opposite – more sewers without sewage treatment makes river pollution worse.

The urgency to invest, not only in sewers, but in the treatment of sewage has never been greater – especially in the most densely populated areas. However, the Western approach of taking all waste to a central treatment plant is expensive and so may not be the best solution.

Onsite treatment technologies such as off-grid toilets or decentralised treatment plants are rapidly developing and may help improve river water quality sooner, enabling more and more people to celebrate Kumbh Mela safely.

Betty White turns 97 today

CBS News
January 17, 2019

Betty White turns 97 today. So to celebrate, here are 5 times she was the cutest human on earth 🎉❤️

5 times Betty White was the cutest human on Earth

Betty White turns 97 today. So to celebrate, here are 5 times she was the cutest human on earth 🎉❤️

Posted by CBS News on Thursday, January 17, 2019

Cohen says he paid to rig online polls at Trump’s direction

The Rachel Maddow Show / The MaddowBlog

Cohen says he paid to rig online polls at Trump’s direction

By Steve Benen          Janaury 17, 2019

Image: U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrives at his hotel in New York
U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrives at his hotel in New York City, U.S., June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid.


Those who’ve spent a considerable amount of time online have come across websites that invite visitors to vote in unscientific polls. They generally tell us very little about public attitudes, but people often like to register their opinions, and website operators often like to create ways to engage visitors, so they’re fairly common. Those who understand social-science research know to ignore the results.

Donald Trump is not one of those people. In fact, he’s complained more than once about the results of online unscientific polls that failed to make him look good.

With this in mind, the Wall Street Journal published a rather remarkable article this morning on Michael Cohen’s efforts – when he was Trump’s personal lawyer and “fixer” – to “rig online polls in his boss’s favor” before the 2016 elections.

To execute the plan, Cohen reportedly hired John Gauger, the chief information officer at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, and the owner of a small tech company called RedFinch Solutions LLC. The Goal was simple; deliver online poll results intended to make Trump happy:

In January 2014, Mr. Cohen asked Mr. Gauger to help Mr. Trump score well in a CNBC online poll to identify the country’s top business leaders by writing a computer script to repeatedly vote for him. Mr. Gauger was unable to get Mr. Trump into the top 100 candidates. In February 2015, as Mr. Trump prepared to enter the presidential race, Mr. Cohen asked him to do the same for a Drudge Report poll of potential Republican candidates, Mr. Gauger said. Mr. Trump ranked fifth, with about 24,000 votes, or 5% of the total.

As is often the case with people who do work for Team Trump, Gauger said he never received the $50,000 he was promised, though he claims Cohen did give him a Walmart bag containing between $12,000 and $13,000 in cash.

Cohen denies that detail – he insists payments were made by check – though he seemed to confirm the gist of the story. In a tweet published this morning, Cohen pointed to the WSJ article and said that when it came to poll rigging, his actions were made “at the direction of and for the sole benefit of” Donald Trump.

The lawyer, who’ll soon be incarcerated for crimes he committed under Trump’s employ, added, “I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it.”

Why should we care about details like these now? A few reasons.

First, when Trump lashes out at polls he doesn’t like as “rigged,” perhaps he knows of what he speaks.

Second, we’re occasionally reminded that the president has long overseen an operation that can charitably be described as amateurish and incompetent, which offers insights into why his White House is such a mess.

But a Washington Post  analysis published this morning raised a related point, putting the contract to rig polls in a larger context: “Why should we not assume that other surreptitious investments might have been made?”

Arctic blast from the ‘fractured’ polar vortex

USA Today

Say it ain’t snow: 2 winter storms, then an Arctic blast from the ‘fractured’ polar vortex

trump’s flawed pick for Attorney General


I Wouldn’t Hire William Barr for Traffic Court

Behind the Scenes at trump’s White House

Occupy Democrats
January 16, 2019

If this doesn’t make you LOL, nothing will! 😂

Behind the scenes at Trump's White House during his idiotic government shutdown 😂

If this doesn't make you LOL, nothing will! 😂Follow Occupy Democrats for more!

Posted by Occupy Democrats on Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Tidying Up!

Good Housekeeping
January 16, 2019

ICYMI, basically *everyone* is obsessing over Marie Kondo and her KonMari method.  (via House Beautiful)

Meet Marie Kondo, Star Of 'Tidying Up' on Netflix

ICYMI, basically *everyone* is obsessing over Marie Kondo and her KonMari method. ✨ (via House Beautiful)

Posted by Good Housekeeping on Tuesday, January 15, 2019

I love my country, but!

Vice News

January 16, 2019

Turkey is now seeking an arrest warrant for New York Knicks center Enes Kanter, accusing him of membership in a terror organization.

In 2017, we spoke to him on why he isn’t backing down from criticizing Erdoğan.

Enes Kanter Isn't Backing Down from Criticizing Erdoğan: VICE …

Turkey is now seeking an arrest warrant for New York Knicks center Enes Kanter, accusing him of membership in a terror organization.In 2017, we spoke to him on why he isn't backing down from criticizing Erdoğan.

Posted by VICE News on Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Feeding the Bees!

Natural Beekeeping Trust

January 12, 2019

Father: What are you feeding them
Daughter: Pollen
#beelove in Kuwait

Come and eat, sweet bees

Father: What are you feeding themDaughter: Pollen#beelove in Kuwait

Posted by Natural Beekeeping Trust on Saturday, January 12, 2019

Food is Helping Flint, Michigan Recover

Civil Eats

Food is Helping Flint Recover and Reimagine Itself

Addressing the water crisis head on, multiple healthy food initiatives are working to improve health, nutrition, and food security while jump-starting the local economy.

By Brian Allnutt, Health, Local Eats, Nutrition   January 16, 2019

Flint Farmers Market


It’s a cold, snowy Thursday in Flint, Michigan, but business is more than steady in the Flint Farmers’ Market where Clinton Peck runs Bushels and Peck’s Produce. Locally grown micro-greens, beets, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage cover the booth, along with tropical fruit and other items he picked up at the produce terminal in Detroit. Elsewhere, the late lunch crowd is enjoying the offerings at the nearby restaurants. Later in the day, a group of kids from the city will participate in a cooking class in one of the market’s industrial kitchens.

It’s probably safe to say that this sort of diverse, foodie environment isn’t the picture most people conjure when they think of Flint—a town that is now synonymous with industrial decline and one of the worst public health crises in the nation’s recent history. Yet this market is booming—more than half a million people visited its 45 year-round and 30 seasonal vendors last year, according to farmers’ market managers.

What’s going on behind the scenes here is just as interesting. Peck’s produce stand operation is supported in part by a primary care pediatric facility called the Hurley Children’s Clinic (HCC), located in the same building. Through an initiative called the Nutrition Prescription Program, sponsored by the Rite-Aid Foundation, caretakers of children visiting the clinic receive a $15 voucher for fresh fruits and vegetables to spend at the market. Peck says he gets about $200 to $250 worth of business from these vouchers every market day.

The prescription program parallels other investments in the Flint food system designed to mitigate some of the worst effects of the water crisis. Programs like Flint Kids Cook—also coordinated by the HCC—as well as Double Up Food BucksFlint Fresh, and investments in community businesses such as the North Flint Food Market are helping Flint residents access fresh fruit and produce, as well as milk products, that are a proven to lessen the effects of lead on the body. For the most part, the produce that Peck sells and Flint Fresh distributes comes from outside the city proper, but Flint Fresh has a specific program of soil-testing and post-harvest handling for growers within the city limit to address lead concerns.

Double Up Food Bucks has grown since 2016, when it was used by 9 percent of SNAP households, to its present reach of over 50 percent. Other promising signs of growth include the facts that Flint Fresh is developing a regional food hub for food processing that could help area growers, and the North Flint Food Market just received a large grant from the Michigan Good Food Fund. In addition to getting healthy foods into the hands of more people, these initiatives are creating openings for the development of sustainable local businesses—and laying the foundation for radical change by giving citizens more control over their health and livelihood.

“Flint is a city like Detroit that is essentially having to re-imagine itself and rebuild itself from the ground up,” says Lisa Pasbjerg, market manager for the nonprofit Flint Fresh. “We want to get fresh produce to our community, but of course we also need to build and have a sustainable local economy.”

Balancing these two efforts hasn’t been easy. Although many nonprofit initiatives have expanded in the city and benefitted small businesses, 42 percent of Flint’s population lives in poverty, according the U.S. Census Bureau, and much of the development is clustered around a gentrifying downtown.

Increasing Access to Nutrition—With a Focus on Children

In 2014, the Flint Farmers’ Market moved to a new location next to the Mass Transportation Authority Transit Center—the source of 80 percent of Clinton Peck’s customers—and also near the YMCA and other amenities. The move preceded the water crisis, as did the co-location of the Hurley’s Children Clinic, but these changes took on a prophetic quality as the fallout from the disaster hit the city.

Since the water crisis, various programs have effectively helped residents—especially young ones—access the fresh food for sale in the market.

When the Nutrition Prescription Program launched in 2016, it gave patients small bags of fresh produce or $5 produce vouchers. As it continued, Amy Saxe-Custack, an assistant professor at Michigan State’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, who runs it along with other researchers, realized their clients weren’t just using these benefits to supplement their diets, but to meet basic food needs. With additional funding from the Rite-Aid Foundation, the HCC was able to increase the amount of the vouchers from $5 to $10 dollars later in 2016 and then from $10 to $15 in 2018.

This effort is groundbreaking for its focus on children and preventative medicine. Saxe-Custack says that most of the food prescription initiatives in other parts of the nation focus on low-income adults with chronic conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes.

“From a dietary perspective, there is tons of evidence to suggest that dietary patterns are established early,” she says, and the attendant research she’s doing for the program may provide some data that could establish it as a model.

A cooking class at Flint Kids Cook. (Photo courtesy of Flint Kids Cook)A cooking class at Flint Kids Cook. (Photo courtesy of Michigan State)

Families using the center also expressed a desire to teach their children how to cook. This inspired Flint Kids Cook, which launched in 2017, sponsored by an anonymous family foundation in New York City that wanted to do something about the water crisis, says Saxe-Custack. Initially the program had trouble attracting enough young people to participate. But now the class at the market has a waiting list and is expanding to other sites in the city.

Saxe-Custack believes the success of the classes stems from the fact that it’s not just a nutrition class or cooking demo: “They’re measuring, they’re mixing, they’re cutting, they’re over a stove … It’s actually hands-on cooking,” she says.

And chefs from the market, such as Ian Diem of Chubby Duck Sushi, help teach the class. “The kids are enamored with the chefs,” as Saxe-Custack puts it. The class could also prepare kids for jobs in a sector that appears to be growing in the city.

Food System Investments Putting Power in Residents’ Hands

The economic benefits of charitable investments in the food sector have grown thanks to programs like Double Up Food Bucks as well. Administered by the Fair Food Network, a national nonprofit that has been using federal, state, and philanthropic funding to match SNAP benefits spent on fruits and vegetables for a decade. At the Flint Farmers’ Market, the effort has translated into more than $110,000 of additional sales annually, according to market manager Karianne Martus.

After the water crisis, the Fair Food Network set out to grow the program by stepping up their outreach to the people of Flint, where they had already established a strong base for the program. They also allowed people to use Double Up Food Bucks on dairy products because calcium has been shown to decrease the absorption of lead in the body.

Since October 2016, the number of residents using the Double Up program has grown from 4,000 to over 13,000. And Holly Parker, senior director of programs at the Fair Food Network, estimates that over 50 percent of SNAP recipients in the city are using the program, which brings more business to people like Peck at the farmers’ market, who says it has boosted his sales by between 8 and 12 percent.

Clinton Peck of Bushels and Pecks at the Flint Farmers' Market.Clinton Peck of Bushels and Pecks at the Flint Farmers’ Market. (Photo courtesy of the Flint Farmers’ Market)

Flint Fresh was also created to respond to the water crisis and is aimed at improving nutrition and food security while supporting local business. Along with mobile farmers’ markets, they deliver around 300 boxes of fresh produce to local families and individuals every month. Both platforms accept Double Up Food Bucks and Nutrition Prescription vouchers, as well as prescriptions from other programs. In the summer, 50 percent of the produce comes from local farms, some of them in Flint itself.

Flint Fresh’s Pasbjerg says that her organization is in the initial phases of building a regional food hub that would help the organization distribute produce. “The idea is that, long term, we would be able to process stuff for local farmers,” she says, “and then use that in the school systems and for local grocery stores.”

In addition to Double Up Food Bucks, the Fair Food Network is partnering with Capital Impact PartnersMSU’s Center for Regional Food Systems, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to invest in Flint as part of the Michigan Good Food Fund, which provides financing and counseling to organizations promoting healthy food access, economic development, and other goals. Among this year’s award winners is the North Flint Reinvestment Corporation, which will be receiving $40,000 to help create the city’s first member-owned co-operative grocery store, the North Flint Food Market.

The co-op is another example of the way the water crisis—as well as the disappearance of two large grocery store chains—engendered the desire for radical change. “The conventional food system isn’t going to come back into that neighborhood,” says Rick Sadler, assistant professor of Family Medicine at Michigan State and a member of the store’s steering committee. Starting the co-op was, in Sadler’s words, a way of “putting the power of the investment in the hands of the residents.”

The Challenges of Radical, Food-based Change

Despite all these positive changes, however, the city still faces structural problems caused by overall disinvestment in most of its neighborhoods and the clustering of new investment around Flint’s small downtown.

For these reasons, Flint businesses will still face a lack of a customer base for the immediate future, Sadler says. “It’s just so hollowed-out, and the momentum of getting investment back into the city has been so slow-going,” he added.

There’s also the fact that most grant-based initiatives don’t offer permanent funding. Double Up Food Bucks, according to Emilie Engelhard, senior director of external affairs for the Fair Food Network, seems to be secure after the Senate voted to protect healthy produce incentives in the most recent farm bill. And the Nutrition Prescription Program is funded through 2019 at the farmers’ market and through May 2020 at a second location. But relying on grants for economic stimulus will always be an uncertain proposition.

The exact potential of food businesses as an economic driver in Flint is also unknown. One study based in Detroit, which is 60-some miles away from Flint and dealing with similar structural issues, found that food was the third-largest employment sector in the city and could soon move to second.

Similar research hasn’t been done in Flint, but the city’s master plan projects that “food and hospitality” jobs in the county will be increasing 51.9 percent by 2040, second only to “health care and social assistance.”

Given this projection—and the progress these initiatives have made so far—Flint’s ability to use some of its current nutritional programming to bring investment back to the city could then be a very important for Flint residents. Although Pasbjerg emphasizes that in one of the nation’s poorest cities, “there’s a ton that needs to be done still.”