Snow-covered rivers in India? 

That’s what it may look like at first, but with temperatures routinely climbing over 110 degrees Fahrenheit, this is not the case. Instead, these stunning images of India’s Yamuna River show a river covered with an unexpected and altogether unpleasant substance: toxic foam. 

Swaths of the Yamuna River, one of two Indian rivers that last month were declared to be living humans by the High Court in Uttarakhand, are so polluted that toxic foam has bubbled up from beneath the surface. 

Take Action: A Crucial Step Towards Achieving Safe And Sustainable Sanitation In India

French photographer Zacharie Rabehi captured the river’s pollution in his “Toxic City” series. 

The Indian government has spent roughly Rs 2,000 crore (or approximately $300 million USD) over the past 22 years in an attempt to clean the river. But human and animal excrement, debris, industrial contaminants, and untreated sewage have turned the sacred river into a bonafide toxic waste zone. 

According to Business Insider, “the river has been deemed ‘dead,’ meaning there is no longer enough oxygen in its waters to sustain fish.”

Part of the issue is a lack of access to water and sanitation facilities for many of those living in poverty, which leads to open defecation that ends up in the country’s rivers and streams. According to one study, more than half of the country lacks access to adequate sanitation. 

Read More: Making India Cleaner: How International Governments, NGOs and Private Sector Groups Are Helping Achieve Water Goals

River pollution is part of a larger pollution crisis in rapidly-developing India. Delhi, the city where the toxic river foam is emerging, has surpassed Beijing as being the smoggiest city in the world, Newsweek reports

The levels of pollution in India are so high, one study showed, that the number of premature deaths in the country rose 150 percent in 25 years. 

This pollution has led to the popularization of the “smog selfie,” Wired reports

Read More: Meet the Guy Cleaning Rivers and Reinventing What It Means to Be an Environmentalist in India

The government is attempting to deal with air and water pollution on several fronts, but the country’s incredible economic growth makes that a challenge. 

India recently announced its intention for all new vehicles produced by 2030 to be electric-powered. It declared the Ganges and Yamuna rivers to be human entities in an attempt to reduce water pollution. And it launched a campaign, called Swachh Bharat, that aims to educate Indians about open defecation. 

But, as the case of the Yamuna River shows, creating a cleaner future in India is an uphill battle. 


Defend the Planet

Polluted River in India Is Literally Bubbling With Toxic Foam

By Phineas Rueckert