Volunteers participate in the Clean Bagmati Campaign. (Photo: www.ekantipur.com)

Volunteers participate in the Clean Bagmati Campaign. (Photo: www.ekantipur.com)

The re-building and mass clean up after the Nepal earthquakes is continuing. In Kathmandu people have been working the government to clear the rubble around the historic and cultural monuments and also the Bagmati River that flows through the city. Before the earthquake… One group had already taken on the difficult change of cleaning up this most polluted river in Nepal.

It’s 6:30 in the morning more than a hundred thousand people have gathered on the banks of the Bangmati river that runs through Kathmandu. .

It’s the 100th week of Bagmati River Cleaning campaign.

Megh Ale, the founder of Friends’ of Bagmati is holding a mic.

“In the world, we are proud about Mount Everest, and we are just as ashamed of our Bagmati River. It’s our responsibility to save Bagmati and help the country to get rid of the shame of this polluted river,” said Bhanu Sharma one of the leaders of the Bagmati Cleaning Campaign over a loud speaker.

The crowd joined hands. Amongst them are senior politicians, ambassadors and religious leaders.

“It was a human chain to protect river. It formed a human wall. We were trying to say we will not throw our sewage, garbage in the river and we will not allow other people to do that,” said Bhanu Sharma.

The Prime Minister Sushil Koirala is also part of the human chain.

“If all citizens, groups, parties come together for a common agenda, we can change anything. It’s a people’s initiative and the government will fully support this. We are developing alternative drainage system. The river will be clean soon,” he said.

Nearly 3 million people live in Kathmandu. That’s one-tenth the population of Nepal.

The city doesn’t have enough recycling plants to manage the solid waste and all household drainage is dumped in the river.

The government is constructing a water recycle system and working on developing bigger recycle plants.

Mahesh Shrestha has pulled his pants up and is in the river. He is taking out plastics, torn cloths and other garbage from the water.

“I have been doing this every week over the last 100 days. It used to stink a lot. But now it’s improving. We will continue cleaning but the Government also needs to stop pouring drainage into the river,” he said.  

The river cleaning campaign was voluntarily started by 8 activists two years ago.

Bhanu Sharma, the Principal of Apex College is one of them.

“The pile of garbage was like Mount Everest. The piles of garbage were everywhere. All plastic. All wastes disposed of. And whole human excreta, and the plumbing from the people’s houses and factories and the whole sewerage was flown into Bagmati,” he said.

In these 100 weeks, the people collected over 5 thousand metric ton waste from the river. They dumped it in the rubbish dump a few kilometers away from Kathmandu valley.

More than 5 hundred thousand people participated in the campaign.

“Basically two decisions we took in the beginning helped us. There will be not any official. No coordinator, no president, no treasurer nothing. All Nepalese are going to be activists and office bearers. Secondly, we will not receive any money. No cash. No bank account, no receipt. If someone wants to donate, come and donate baskets, the boots, the gloves and other things. It was a voluntary work. We will not pressurize people to come and join. We will request them. And we will keep requesting,” he said.

And in 2 years, it has become the largest self-run campaign organized informally.

Back at the event, two girls are singing songs to encourage people to protect the river. The song says we grow like flowers in numbers; we expand like fires and clean for a healthy future.

21 year old Tina Bhattarai is holding a bag full of waste taken from the Bagmati and puts it in dustbin. She is wearing a t-shirt ‘Be Nepali’

“I am just dreaming about the day when I enter the river and I will not feel itchy any more. I will swim in the river.”

Bhanu Sharma, who helped start the campaign also dreams of that day.

“We are putting lots of pressure on the government. We want to handover this cleaning process to the local people. We want to go to people’s houses and tell them instead of picking garbage from the Bagmati, let’s stop throwing garbage in it.”

 

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