Operation Clean-Up Phase 9 at Wah Umiew

SHILLONG: The Operation Clean-Up team comprising teams Jiva, MakeSomeoneSmile, St Edmund’s batch of 79, Colonel Sishupal Security Company (CSSC), members of the Unitarian Church Smit, Meghalaya Basin Development volunteers and members of the Organising Committee, Shillong Times Platinum Jubilee converged at Wah (River) Umiew on Saturday.
The Umiew which originates from Lum Shyllong (Shillong Peak) at a place called Rangkyndur, flows along a distance of 25 kms up to Mawphlang where the river is dammed to provide drinking water to the entire population of Shillong under the Greater Shillong Water Supply Scheme (GSWSS).
The project which was conceptualised and designed a few years after Meghalaya got its statehood was to be executed in 1978 – the base year. It was intended to provide potable water supply to the urban and sub-urban population of 3.11 lakh and a rural population of 0.40 lakh at that time at an average of 11.30 million gallons of water per day.
The water treatment plant for the River Umiew is at Mawphlang and the project had a chequered history.  All along the River Umiew, particularly in Smit and Umphrup the team saw people washing clothes. The River looked murky from the soapy water and detergents used. Further up, a few kilometres from its source people also wash their vehicles.
But what is worse is that the River is also used as dumping ground for nappies and the gel can be seen floating on the river or embedded on the river bed. Also found were single-use plastics.
Next to the River is a big field which the residents around use as a dumping ground.
Headman of Umphrup village, B Nongkhlaw said the problem with his village and all other surrounding villages is that there is no waste management system. He said villagers bury the plastic waste in their backyards or burn it. Operation Clean-up Team saw garbage being dumped right next to the River Umiew under the bridge.
Interestingly there is a hoarding next to the River Umiew warning people not to dump garbage into the River and mentioning very specifically Huggies and Pampers (diapers) and that anyone caught doing so would be fined.
But someone defaced the hoarding with cow-dung. When Nongkhlaw was asked if anyone has been fined so far, his reply was that no one was caught red handed as yet.
Operation Clean-up team was able to collect two pick-up loads of garbage from the River and to take it with them to be dumped at Marten the only garbage dumping ground in East Khasi Hills.
Nongkhlaw said that the Shillong Municipal Board/Urban Affairs Dept had said they would send the trucks once a week pick up garbage but that is yet to materialise.
The question is whether picking up garbage once a week is enough and whether Marten alone can handle all the garbage.
On seeing the Operation Clean-Up team the women washing clothes in the River spoke among themselves saying, “We should be ashamed that people from Shillong have to come all the way to clean up our River,” even while the Rangbah Shnong and other members of the Dorbar worked with the Shillong team to clear up the garbage buried in the field but only to dump that in another place for there is no other way to dispose of solid waste.
A critical need at this hour for Meghalaya is to manage solid waste in every part of the State and not just the district headquarters. The Water Resources Department too needs to take an urgent call on safeguarding the purity of water especially when fresh water has become a critical need.

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