Water pollution is a major problem in many countries of the world. According to an article published in Elsevier journal, approximately 25 million persons die as a result of water pollution, which is caused from human activities either industrial or domestic.
Kongba River of Manipur is one among the polluted River of the state. It is one of the major feeders of Imphal River having a catchment area of 144.2 square kilometers and length of 35.8 kilometers. Kongba River arises from Kongba Maru and joined into Imphal River at Kiyamgei. Out of the total length of Kongba River, 6.8 kilometer is polluted in the peri-urban areas. The stretch of the river from Kongpal to Ucheckon in Imphal East district is the most polluted zone. Increased anthropogenic activities for domestic purpose for bathing, washing clothes and utensils, uncontrolled discharge of untreated domestic sewage, dumping of household wastes etc. are some of the factors deteriorating the quality of the river. In earlier days, the river served as the only water source for irrigation and domestic water supply.
Local authorities have identified several sources including hospital discharging harmful chemicals directly into the river, significantly compromising its water quality. Residents alongside the banks of the Kongba River have reported a range of health issues including skin irritations and gastrointestinal problems. The contamination has prompted concerns about the safety of the River water for daily use, raising questions about the adequacy of existing water treatment facilities.
In this regard, Mr. Yumlembam Gopaldev Singh, 45 years of Ucheckon Takhok Mapal in Imphal East district narrated that because of the increase growth of water hyacinth and other weeds make the water musty. It also acts as a breeding place for mosquitoes. People feel itchiness while using water causing allergies and skin diseases. The condition of the river gets deteriorated since last 15 years. Discharge of untreated water into the River makes the River polluted. Now the river is filled with many wastes. Even if the water is used for fish farm, there are many cases of death of fishes because of the polluted water. And even during the lean season when the water is used for agricultural purposes, people of the locality faced many skins related problems. He further added that even people cannot stand near the riverbank because of the musty smell of the water.
Moreover, constructions of many community halls and other structures constructed over/in the river create disturbance in the water flow of the river. He appealed the authorities concerned to look into it and stop further constructions to save the life of the river.
Another resident, Thokchom Suresh of Kongpal Sajor Leikai in Imphal East who has a close affinity with the river since his childhood expressed that the river has witnessed a drastic change in the last decade. During their childhood days, they used the river water for daily usage and for drinking too. But in the last few decades, people residing at the bank of the river started considering river as a dumping place. He mentioned that the negligence of river and its value is one major cause for the deterioration of the river. And moreover, with the easy accessibility of water at home spending money multiplies the importance of river in one’s life. There are many instances even people find difficult to buy water during the water scarcity period. At that particular period of juncture people started relying on river water for their daily usages as it remains the only source of water.
Recalling his close association with the river, Thokchom Suresh expressed that he used to catch many varieties of indigenous fishes from the Kongba River which is now almost vanished. He opined that the existing problem of this river is man made. Acknowledging the value and importance of the river could be one of the means for the sustainability of the river. The present deteriorating situation of the river wrecked the natural beauty of the river. He further expressed that local clubs have taken an initiative to clean the river. They have cleaned 800 meters in 4 days where the volunteers could not stay longer than one hour inside the river water because of itchiness. He appeals to the ‘Meira Paibis’, local clubs, civil society organizations and others to come forward and extend their support in saving the life of Kongba River. He also appeals the government line departments to put maximum efforts in reviving the river. For people who could not buy water, river is their source of water without any cost. So, lets us join hands together to revive and safeguard this vital water resource, Kongba River.
One resident of Khundrakpam Makha Leikai of Imphal East district in the upper stream of the river told that river water was clean and pure during his childhood days. They used to drink water directly from the river. They used the water for all daily purposes. Now, the colour of the river turns black which is not safe for using domestically and the flow of water is stagnant. In olden days there existed a tradition of maintaining the river clean as it is the only source of water for drinking and other purposes. It needs to revive the tradition of loving the river and its resources including water. Social regulatory norms for saving the river need to be introduced and implemented efficiently as water bodies of the state are dying day-by-day, and there lies the need to introduce a sustainable and scientific approach to bring back all the water bodies including Kongba River into their pollution free status.
Analyzing the latest data being provided by the State Environment Laboratory, Directorate of Environment and Climate Change, Government of Manipur, Dr Likmabam Sanjoy of Department of Environmental Science of Dhanamanjuri University, Manipur says that Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) of Kongba River water which is above the permissible level indicates the presence of organic pollutants, potentially indicating poorer quality of water which is not safe for drinking without treatment. The moderate degree of hardness of the river will correspond to the loss of economy and energy for instances – consumption of more detergents or soaps to clean the clothes and more time consumption in boiling the water. The presence of total Coliform bacteria in water is due to the presence of untreated sewage which may cause diseases like dysentery, diarrhoea etc. The pungent/rotten egg smell and blackish colour of the water is the sign of presence of Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S).
He expressed that Phyto-remedial measure such as aquatic plants plantations can be an alternative means for purification of polluted water. At the same time periodical cleaning of water hyacinth and other weeds will also be a contributing factor for purifying polluted water bodies.
In this regard, Mr. Remmei Alimmei, Chief Engineer, Water Resources Department of Government of Manipur said that climate change posses a great impact on the e-flow of Kongba River. He expressed that during the rainy season in Manipur, rivers experience increased water level due to heavy rainfall. In contrast, the lean season sees reduced water levels. The narrowing of the breath and shallowness of the river due to sedimentation, changes in the riverbed or human activities like deforestation and construction cause many problems during floods. In the year (2021-2022) the department had cleaned a length of about 4.5 Km from Tangkham to Pangei Nepali Basti of Imphal East. The department till now has no specific plan for Kongba River only. Once the project starts working, the condition of the river will be improved and will be able to solve some of the problems faced by the public. Moreover, he appealed the public not to throw garbage inside and on the bank of the river and to save the river for our future generations.
The polluted Kongba River reflects broader issues of environmental degradation and underscores the need for a holistic approach to water resource management. The implementation of eco-friendly technologies, stringent regulatory frameworks, and community-led initiatives can play a pivotal role in rejuvenating the rivers as a whole. It is imperative for stakeholders to collaborate in finding innovative solutions to address the root causes of pollution and promote long-term sustainability for the Kongba River and its surrounding ecosystem and ensure a healthier future for Manipur.
The Kongba River pollution crisis serves as a stark reminder of the pressing need for sustainable development and environmental conservation. As stakeholders collaborate to find solutions, the fate of the Kongba River hangs in the balance, emphasizing the importance of collective action to protect our precious natural resources.
(The article is filed under the 4th State level Media Fellowship Programme on Climate Change under the sponsorship of the Directorate of Environment and Climate Change, Government of Manipur.)