Endosulfan poisons Indian rivers Special
Rampant use of endosulfan is poisoning rivers in the north east region of India, the world’s largest producer and exporter of the hazardous chemical.
Illegal use of endosulfan to catch fish has endangered the lives of hundreds living along Manu – a trans-boundary river that originates in Tripura state in North eastern India. In order to make a fast buck, illegal traders are mixing the highly toxic pesticide in the river upstream. Once it’s mixed, the chemical is then carried by the current all the way down to Bangladesh where the River Manu merges into the River Kushiara.
The use of endosulfun has been disastrous for the marine life of the river: several species of fish have disappeared altogether, while many others have become extremely rare. In the list of the vanished species are Tiger fish, Dwarf Goonch and Ar – giant fishes that the river was once famous for. Even Sind Danio, Wallogo, Indian river shad, and turtles which were commonly found even 10 years ago are now extremely rare. There has also been a significant drop in the fish population by the locals.
Renuka Dutta, 67, lived for over 30 years in Durgapur – a village by river Manu. She says that use of poison to catch fish was always there. In fact it used to be an annual affair every winter, like a ‘community picnic’. She, however, had never heard of anyone using any synthetic poison or chemical.
“Every winter – around January/February, people used to collect vishlat – a poison ivy found in abandance in the nearby forests and extract the juice to put that in the river as due to cold fishes would not come to the surface too often. Once mixed in water, the juice would blind the fish temporarily, but would do no harm to humans,” says Dutta.
However, in recent years, endosulfun has replaced the traditional use of herbs. The frequency of use too increased. For example, in past 1 month alone, there have been 4 instances of river poisoning.
Amar Mitra, a local farmer and a fishing enthusiast says, “When poison ivy was used, we could see fish thrashing around in the water blindly. But now we see dead fish floating.”
Since fish curry and rice is the staple diet of the locals, the demand of fish is always high in the local market. With food prices going higher and higher, the chances of making a kill (a kg of medium size of fish can fetch as high as Rs 350) is drawing many people into this illegal practice, using endosulfan which is easy to buy and is far more lethal.
But this is not only causing havoc on the marine life, but putting the health of the locals as well as people downstream at stake.
No wonder, there has been a significant increase in the number of people suffering from water borne diseases such as dysentery and gastroenteritis in villages along Manu, as well as Deo – a tributary of river Manu which has also seen fishing by endosulfan poisoning. Once seen as ‘monsoon sicknesses’, now such diseases are also becoming common in winter, thanks to endosulfan.
Endosulfan has been banned or is being phased out in most countries, including the EU and the US. After years of resistance, in May this year, India also agreed to a phased out ban on the toxic pesticide, under an agreement signed by 127 nations of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).