Water Pollution and Sewage Effluent Waste in Northern Sri Lanka

Access to clean water is fundamental to Sri Lanka's growth and development.

1 min read
Contaminated waterway in South India, tainted by sewage effluent

In Sri Lanka, we are an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, which is vital for fishing (food), trade (shipping), tourism (recreation and pleasure), and our overall well-being (health).

Clean water is essential for drinking, hygiene, livelihoods, and ultimately survival. However, our dependency on clean water is threatened by pollution from various sources, including neighboring South India, with its dense population and significant industrial activity. The heavy spills of industrial metals, plastic waste, and effluent in their rivers pose a substantial risk to our northern coastline, not far from their major cities and towns.

Efforts have been made to address issues such as poaching of fishery stock by fishermen from neighboring coasts, but the more significant concern lies in the raw sewage that spills over from mainland coasts into the rivers and eventually into coastal waters, degrading our shores and contaminating the sea.

During a recent visit to Sri Lanka in September/October 2023, I spent considerable time at beaches along the northern coast, including Karainagar-Charty, Kankesanturai, Keerimali, Jaffna, and Kilali. Everywhere I went, there was a palpable fear of effluent from South India reaching our beaches.

It is probable that the authorities in Chennai are monitoring the effluent draining into the sea from the densely populated banks of the Cauvery River. Similarly, it is reasonable to assume that our government is aware of this impending water pollution.

The control of sewage pollution in our coastlands is crucial for both governments. Sewage and solid waste in coastal waters pose both short-term and long-term threats.

Access to clean water is fundamental to Sri Lanka’s growth and development. Water supply and sanitation are basic needs, and public funding for wastewater management has been increasing, albeit slowly, over the years. However, there is a growing need for increased funding, similar to the allocations made for our military services.

The Northern Province, with only 12% coverage of the country’s total water resources, faces significant challenges in providing piped water to its residents. Addressing this disparity in water supply spending and controlling water pollution is imperative.

We cannot afford to wait for water pollution issues to escalate, akin to how the Oxbridge Boat Race losers blame “E.coli contamination” for their poor showing in the River Thames. Water utility companies, including Thames Water in London, are under pressure to allocate funds for replacing worn-out metal pipes with plastic alternatives.

The issue of water pollution is not confined to Sri Lanka, India, or the UK but is a global concern.

Victor Cherubim

Victor Cherubim is a London-based writer and a frequent columnist of the Sri Lanka Guardian

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