Oct 30, 2011

Last blog entry

Incredible, I am already one week back in Germany, Saken is back in Washington and Lisa is still travelling in India.

With end of October our IBM volunteering for Siruthuli ended. We hope that some of our ideas will help Siruthuli to tackle the water hyacinth and the sewage water. We definitely had a good experience and learned a lot, not only about water hyacinth but also about India, India culture and daily life. Definitely, a lot of good memories to keep!!

Before we took off we made some final pictures:

Siruthuli Staff and the IBM CSC Siruthuli team (Lisa, Cordula and Saken)

IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) India 12 team and Déjà -Vu hotel staff

Oct 21, 2011

Talked to school kids

During our stay we always wanted to visit a school. On our last day we had the opportunity to talk to 50 school kids. We reported about our field trips around Valankulam and what pollution source discovered. We motivated them to join world clean up day and to help to clean up the solid waste around Valankulam tank. First they were shy but then we got some really tricky questions: what Software IBM builds, what they could do for the slums, if osmosis technology can be used for treating sewayge water.

Was really fun and another good insight in India daily life.

Oct 20, 2011

Final presentation

For our final presentation, Siruthuli were spreading the news and invited their trustees, APEXmembers and volunteers. When we started our presentation there were about 25 people in the audience. When the light was switched on at the end there were about 40 people.

We talked about the as is situation which we discovered during our field trips.

We needed to disillusion a bit since there is no one time solution for the water hyacinth. The only option left is to combine different control strategies and to adjust them to the local situation and facilities in Coimbatore.

One hour before our final presentation we met Prof Dr. Kalyanasundaram, from the Institute for Entomology, Tamil Nadu Agriculture, Coimbatore. And to our surprise his institute has the skills and facilities to rear the critical amount of weevils needed for biological control of water hyacinth. What a good news and even for a reasonable price.

We recommended not to do anything about the water hyacinth at Valakulam tank for now. With the current volume of daily sewage inlet the growth rate of water hyacinth is too excessive and the harvesting effort would be a waste of money and real a Sisyphus operation. Actually at the moment water hyacinths have a positive effect on the water quality of Valankulam tank since the plant has the ability to treat sewage water.

We recommended starting water hyacinth control at a medium or low invested tank, to prevent the tank to become as bad as Valankulam and to test the new control strategy. We recommended a combination of biological and manual control were we also highlighted options to make harvesting smarter and less cost intensive. As usage option we recommended to make briquettes out of the water hyacinth. These can be used by dwellers for cooking and replace the firewood. Getting firewood gets more and more hard the faster the city grows.

In parallel a thorough water analysis needs to be carried out. Only on basis of water analysis results a sound decision can be made how the sewage water of Valankulam should be treated. For this experts and funds will be needed. We recommended Siruthuli to build knowledge partnerships and to start applying for funds. We did an in depth research of possible partners and were already able to establish first contacts. Now unfortunately our time is over. It is time for us to say good bye and start packing. We hope that Siruthuli will be successful, so that we can come back soon and take a swim in Valankulam tank.

From the office back to the hotel

Drivers in India always blow their horn. That is the soundscape of India. It is their way to communicate, to inform each other: “I am driving behind you I will passing you now, keep the line, don’t shift to the right or left”

To our very surprise there is one situation where nobody blows the horn: Driving against traffic.

We couldn’t believe what was going on when we drove the first time back from the office to our hotel. Driving from the office lane we got onto the main road in the wrong direction. After a while we got prepared but every time it was a surprise again. Driving against traffic is just a common practice here to take a shortcut. It seems to bother nobody in India just us foreigners.

Oct 18, 2011

Honor to talk Prof. Dr. Kalam

All three of us were really impressed how Siruthuli celebrated the 80th birthday of Dr Kalam.

The program was a good combination of celebrating and making environmental statements.

The Ex-president of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, was welcomed by dancing girls and guided to a spot where he planted the 80.000th tree in Coimbatore area. Simultaneously to his cut with the spate further 80 trees were planted, - the foundation of the Dr. Kalam forest as stated on the plaque which were uncovered. Unbelievable between interviews with journalists, talks to school kids and green guardians we had the honour to talk to him.

He was seated on a swing a symbol for happiness in India. During gift giving a famous singer presented a song specially composed for him accompanied by traditional dances.

At the end Dr. Abdul Kalam made a very encouraging speech to all the school children reminding them about their responsibility for a better life and better environment for them and their community, for India and the world.

During the birthday lunch the three of us got surrounded by a class of school boys, which became so exited, and made us feel like movie stars. Everybody wanted a picture with us. We gave autographs and signed invitation letters, school books and in case of paper shortage real hands.

Oct 14, 2011

Becoming real Indian

Tomorrow Sirtuthuli has the honour to celebrate the 80th birthday of Dr. Abdul Kalam, the former president of India. The celebration will take place at the country side at Nandangarai Check Dam, which Siruthuli restored 2008. 3000 school kids and around 1000 invited guests are expected. During the celebration Dr. will plant the 80.000 tree for Coimbatore area. According to Siruthuli slogan “Clean Kovai Green Kovai” the dress code is of course green.

The TV and the News will be there. Lisa and I

went to the tailor to get dressed up for such an honourable event. What you think? We are really looking Indian now!

Oct 13, 2011

Sewage treatment - Harvesting

Unfortunately there is no option to get rid of water hyacinth, the only option left is to control their growth: The cleaner the water the more the growth of water hyacinths slows down. So it would be a big achievement if no sewage water gets into the tank.

Currently the government of Coimbatore is running a project to convert the open drainage system into underground systems and to direct them to the new sewage treatment plant. The announced target date is March 2012.

However Siruthuli and the 25 NGOs are having doubts if the target date will be achieved or even worse that the project will never be completed due to corruption. Their idea is to build a decentralized sewage treatment plant which collects and treats the sewage streams floating into Valankulam tank. The following steps are needed:

  • Detailed water analysis needs to be carried out over time
  • Based on the water analysis results a suitable treatment technology needs to be selected
  • A proposal with cost calculation needs to be handed in to the government
  • Grants and sponsors need to be identified
  • A company who builds the plant needs to be selected
  • The maintenance of the treatment plant needs to be established
  • Siruthuli and the other 25 NGOs are at the beginning of this process.

However the water hyacinth problem exists NOW. Actions are needed NOW so that the situation is not getting.

The only option remaining at the moment is: Harvesting. Harvesting of water hyacinth is time consuming and cost intensive.


What needs to be done:

  1. Thick mats need to be separated into pieces
  2. Mat pieces needs to dragged or pushed close to the banks
  3. Water hyacinth need to be pulled out of water either manually or with help of a machine
  4. Water hyacinth need to be removed from the banks to avoid new spread.

Typical harvesting and transportation problems:

Hyacinth tends to float away, when manually harvested from banks. Due to their high percentage of water (95%) they are heavy to lift and are of high volume.

Problem through sewage contamination: due the high sewage water concentration in Valankulam tank the water is dangerous to health. Physical contact with the water needs to be avoided

Any idea, any creative thinking?

Oct 12, 2011

On safari

Since we are here we are only having blue sky, sunshine and the Indian heat. Trinking coconuts became a habit.
On our trip we passed Ooty a hill station in mountains close to Coimbatore. Never thought, that clouds, mist and chilly climate can be so nice.

We passed the hill top and went down Mundamalai nature reservoir dedicated to spot the Indian tiger.To our suprise the Safari vehicle was an entire bus and only the last row was left with seats for us. It was a real bumpi jumpi ride and the diesel motor rowed to its limits. At the end we were not sure if slogan at the front shield of the bus “Animal sighting is a matter of luck – Silence please while sighting animals “ was true or only to calm down participants for disappointments.

We stayed in the wilderness at the forest ranger guesthouse.
The jungle night came with all it noises. We heard elephants trumpeting. But in the morning we found out it were the brakes of the trucks and busses passing along the road. No worries at the end we saw them all: elephants, red deers, peacocks, bisons, egal, a jeopardy and even more deers. Bu the tiger kept hiding.

Oct 9, 2011

Water tanks & Water hyacinth

We faced our patients and had several field trips around various tanks of Coimbatore

Conditions differ: from thick water hyacinth mats to just a view flowers at the bank sites at Kumaraswamy Tank.

It is dry season now. Shallow tanks converted into swamps. Reed is covering the surface of the tank in between fields of water hyacinth. Bad luck the water hyacinths are surviving. When monsoon comes they just start floating again.

Oct 6, 2011

Hard to get figures

Time is passing quickly. We are busy with discovering the as is situation, by doing interviews and field trips.

To gain a clear understanding is somehow tricky since opposite question can lead to the same answer. We realized it is better to ask What, Where, Why, When How questions instead of Yes and No question. Answers and especially numbers and figures are tending to vary. And with a lack of vocabulary, various accents, unfamiliarity of the Indian culture and heat around 38 degrees Celsius it is just hard. We are all a little bit exhausted.

At the moment a religious festival is going on. It is a 9 day Puja, the festival of dolls. Three goddesses are worshiped. The first three days were for the goodness of knowledge and we had a Puja in our office. The office rooms, the working books, the expedition vehicles and our computers got blessed. Hoping we will get the correct facts and figures together to be able to give the right recommendations. Let’s try and see.

Our patient - Valankulam tank

So on Tuesday, Mr. Ilangovan (civil engineer with the Public Works Department) took us for our last field visit so far: a tour around Valankulam tank. We could see the various contributors to the pollution in the tank. Through an open drainage more than 1 million liters of sewage water reach the tank each day, a large portion of that stems from the General Hospital. Moreover, a bus depot cleaning 150 buses each day directs 15.000l of wastewater into the tank. Also, the encroachments/ slums at the north side of the tank have no sanitation at all, so that all of their sewage flows directly into the tank. Next to these fluid streams of pollution, lots solid waste that is dumped at the side of the tank, household waste, building debris and market waste. We got lots of valuable information on Tuesday, but at the same time we were sad to see the bad condition that the tank is in. Lots of work remains to be done. Here are some pictures of what we saw:

Oct 5, 2011

Shocking numbers

Just read an article from Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists,Inc. about water hyacinth(http://pnej.org/?p=377).

Here the quote which shocked me: “Water hyacinth (scientific name: Eichornia crassipes) is considered the most productive plant on earth as it yields more than 200 tons of dry matter per hectare per year under normal conditions. On water containing high concentrations of sewage, it yields up to 657 tons of dry matter per hectare.

So sewage treatment is definitely a must!!!
What data do we need to define the right treatment for the sewage in our tank???

Monsoon – Dry season

During Monsoon the water capacity of the tanks gets recharged by water from the Noyyal river and rain itself. The historic system of tanks is pretty smart. Three of the 8 tanks are directly connected to the river via channels. The other tanks are subsidiary tanks and are getting filled via outlets from the preceding tanks. In case of an extreme monsoon which exceeded the capacity of the tanks the last tanks have outlets which feed back to the river.

In former days no new water was supplied to the tanks during dry season. The stored water was used for irrigation. At the end of the dry seasons no water was left in Valakulam tank (tank no 7) and the riverbed was used for growing cucumbers and other vegetables.

Today there is a new water sources for the tanks. Sewage water is a constant stream which feeds the tanks also during dry season. Throughout the city surface rainwater gets harvested from the streets and is directed via drainage systems to the tank. Unfortunately these drainage systems are misused. Sewage water is let in and is reaching the tank without treatment. The key victim is Valankulam tank since this tank is located in the centre of the city.

Drainage system (open and closed)

Sewage water from households (washing, cleaning and toilets) contains a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus, - prefect growing conditions for water hyacinth. Furthermore the weather conditions during dry season enhance growing. Temperature between 28 and 32 degrees lots of blue sky and sunshine are idle. All these factors make water hyacinth growing faster. The growth slows down during monsoon when the temperature gets a bit cooler the sky is cloudier and the nitrogen and phosphorus concentration gets diluted.

Now we are looking for treatment options of the sewage water to slow down the water hyacinth growth.

Sep 30, 2011

Reviewing and adjusting our statement of work

Prior to coming to Coimbatore we received a statement of work outlining the activities and the deliverables related our project. Next to that Siruthuli had also sent us a draft report in which the steps needed for rejuvenating the Valankulam tank were listed. Siruthuli, together with some 25 other NGOs was asked to submit an advice to the collector (a government official, basically running the city) on how the pollution in the Valankulam tank could be taken care of. Government funds may be allocated based on that advice. We now suggested to create a high-level strategic plan on how the wastewater streams around Valankulam tank need to be directed and/or treated. Vanitha agreed with our suggestion, so that we will probably be able to finalize our statement of work today.
Any contacts or suggestions regarding our revised topic will be highly appreciated!


Sep 29, 2011

1. Field trip: dump site & sewage

A project of Siruthuli: Waste get watered with EM solution before dumped on the dump site. With help of Effective Microorganisms (EM) waste rottens quicker.
Next generation grassland? Hope not. Actually due to EM technology it doesn’t smell very badly.

The lagoon next to the dump site. From here the sewage water of Coimbatore gets pumped up to the lagoon. Another ongoing project of Siruthuli: Siruthuli treats the sewage water regularly with Microbes, before it is being used to water the surrounding trees.

Open drainage system. Very problematic!!! Since nobody can control the let-ins of industrial wastewater.
Sewage collecting point from here the sewage water gets pumped up to the Lagoon, or hopefully soon to the new sewage treatment plant (opened Jan 2011)
The sewage treatment plant, unfortunately only 30% of Coimbatore’s sewage water is connected via the drainage system to the treatment plant.