Thames River: Once was The Cause of Cholera Outbreak and Filled with Sewage, Now Nominated as One of The World’s Cleanest River

The Thames river is located in Southern England and is 330 kilometers long, making it the longest river in England. The river that flows through the city of London does not only serves as a tourism spot, but also serves as a habitat for 125 species of fish and 400 species of invertebrate who dwell on the surrounding areas. Even though the Thames is considered as one of the cleanest river in the world, the river’s condition is not always like that. In fact, Thames river was once declared as biologically dead.

Two landmarks of England, Big Ben and the London Eye, are located near the Thames River Source: cdn.londonandpartners.com
Two landmarks of England, Big Ben and the London Eye, are located near the Thames River Source: cdn.londonandpartners.com

 

Once Nicknamed as “The Great Stink”

During the Victorian era, all kinds of waste ranging from industrial, household, untreated sewage, and waste from slaughterhouse ended up in the Thames river. Those waste were the beginning of how the Thames river become polluted, which was worsened by World War II. The bombings that occurred during the World War did not only ruin buildings, but also sewage treatment facilities. As a result, the sewage spilled into the river and the water got even more polluted.

In the summer of 1857, citizens started to feel disturbed by the foul smell that originated from the Thames river. The smell became even worse due to the heat wave that hit the city of London. The polluted water of the river was so bad that it diminished the oxygen level to be very low, which made it impossible for living creatures to live. The river that was once called “The Jewel of London” was named “The Great Stink” instead. Moreover, due to the river’s condition, the Natural History Museum declared the Thames river as biologically dead in 1957.

An Illustration of Michael Faraday when checking the water quality of the Thames river. Faraday himself is a scientist who focused on the cleaning efforts of the Thames river. Source: www.choleraandthethames.co.uk
An Illustration of Michael Faraday when checking the water quality of the Thames river. Faraday himself is a scientist who focused on the cleaning efforts of the Thames river. Source: www.choleraandthethames.co.uk

 

The Cause of Cholera Outbreak

The existence of a river give important benefits not only for the animals living inside it, but also for people whose lives depend on the river for various purposes, including the Thames.  

Ironically enough, the Thames river that was badly polluted was, at the same time, the main source of drinking water for the citizens of London. Consequently, there was a cholera outbreak in 1832 that persist for 22 years long. The outbreak costs the lives of 35,000 people. Initially, London citizens could not yet point out that the cause of the disease was from their drinking water. They thought that the disease originated from the foul smell in the atmosphere, which was called miasma. It was only until Robert Koch discovered the cholera bacillus, that the correlation between drinking the soiled water and cholera proposed by Dr. John Snow was scientifically proven. The cholera outbreak was managed only after the restoration process for the Thames river has begun.

Efforts in Restoring the Thames River

News about the condition of the Thames river had finally reached the Parliament in 1857. Along with the cholera outbreak, the Parliament was forced to enact a law regarding the cleaning process of the Thames river. A plan was finally agreed in 1865, in which an engineer named Joseph Bazalgette was appointed to lead the establishment of sewage system, pumping stations, as well as embankments  in order to clean the Thames river, stop the cholera outbreak, and to support the livelihood of the people living in London.

One of the solutions that are done in order to restore the Thames was to build embankments to narrow down the body of the river, which in turn will increase the flow of the water. This increase in water flow will help in cleaning the river. Joseph Bazalgette finished building the Victoria embankment in 1870, the Albert embankment in 1868, and the Chelsea embankment in 1874. In total, all those embankments are 3,5 miles long. The establishment of embankments and sewage system managed to make the Thames river no longer emit a foul smell. However, the condition of the water still could not support any kinds of life form. Taking into consideration the industrial revolution era during the year 1750 until 1850 as well as the growing population of London, the restoration process of the Thames river was nowhere near easy.

Then, in 1960, plans to clean up the Thames river was established again, such as improving waste treatment facilities, removing industrial waste, adding oxygen into the river using technology called  bubble boats, and even the use of biodegradable detergent. Furthermore, during 1970s and 1980s, together with the increasing general awareness regarding the environment, there were concerns about the use of pesticide and fertilizers that were swept by rainwater into the river. This problem was then addressed using tighter regulations regarding the use of pesticide.

In addition, the banks of the Thames river that were covered in concrete were changed into rubble. That way, the river bank will create sediments that develop into mud banks. These mud banks will later on become an ideal habitat for reed bed to form, which will support the overall ecosystems of the river.

Ducks are seen standing on the banks of the Thames river. Source: Duncan Veere Green/Alamy Stock Photo
Ducks are seen standing on the banks of the Thames river. Source: Duncan Veere Green/Alamy Stock Photo

The Condition of Thames River Now

Back in 1950, there were barely any life in the water of Thames. Then 1974, the first salmon started returning to the river. Now, the Thames river is thriving with all sorts of lives. sungai Thames. In the water, various types of fish swam around, including salmon and sea bass.  On the surface, ducks and waterfowl live and breed in the surrounding areas of the river.

Fish who have started appearing in the Thames river. Source: Richard Cooke/Alamy Stock Photo
Fish who have started appearing in the Thames river. Source: Richard Cooke/Alamy Stock Photo

Moreover, based on a survey conducted from 2004 until 2014 by London Zoological Community, as many as 2,000 seals and hundreds of porpoise are spotted in the Thames river.

A seal (phoca vitulina) was caught on camera when swimming in the surface of the Thames river. Source: Chris Laurens/Alamy Stock Photo
A seal (phoca vitulina) was caught on camera when swimming in the surface of the Thames river. Source: Chris Laurens/Alamy Stock Photo

The restoration process of the Thames also made it won the Theiss River award in 2010 with a value of 220,000 pound sterling. The award is given to river who has undergone outstanding restoration process. The Thames was competing with other 3 rivers, namely the Yellow River in China, the Hattah Lake in Australia, and the Smirnykh river in Japan.  

The Condition of Rivers in Indonesia

The restoration process of the Thames river does not only involved the government, but is also supported by the awareness of the citizens regarding the importance of protecting the Thames from being polluted, since they were the ones who suffered from the polluted river. Keeping the river clean and alive is a never ending process, and Indonesia can take several pages from Thames’ book.

As a country with many existing rivers, and the many people who depend on them, Indonesia faces a similar problem as the Thames, which is pollution. The data from Ministry of Environment and Forestry even stated that during 2013, from a total of 57 rivers in Indonesia that are monitored, 75% of them are heavily contaminated by domestic waste.

Children were seen playing in the polluted Citarum river in West Java.  Photo credit: Donny Iqbal/Mongabay Indonesia
Children were seen playing in the polluted Citarum river in West Java.  Photo credit: Donny Iqbal/Mongabay Indonesia

Take Citarum river in West Java for example, which was nominated as one of the world’s dirtiest river. Based on the data from West Java’s Environmental Department, there are approximately 1.900 industries along the banks of Citarum river, and 90% of them do not possess an adequate waste treatment facility. As a result, 340,000 tons of waste were disposed into the water without being processed.

In addition, the Citarum river is also polluted by domestic waste, from household into human waste. The amount of household is as much as 20.472 tons of waste per day, and 71% of them are not transported into landfills. To make it worse, 35.5 tons of human waste as well as 56 tons of livestock waste are also directly dumped into the river. On the other hand, 300 hundred million lives depend on the river for various purposes. 

Just like how the Thames was once declared biologically dead, it is time to take action before the same fate befalls the rivers in Indonesia.

Let’s Keep Our Rivers Clean!

Apart from tight regulations and law enforcement, the things that can be done to overcome the pollution in the river is to have a responsible waste management system. This is important because according to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, in 2015, from a total of 175.000 tons of waste that are generated every day, 8.5 of them are not managed, meaning that those waste can enter the river, sewage, and even the oceans.

Every person can be a part of the solution by implementing a responsible waste management system, and we can start by segregating waste. Waste4Change provides waste management services that mainly consist of a service called Zero Waste to Landfill (ZWTL), in which we ensure that our clients’ waste do not end up in landfills, (and certainly not in rivers), as well as individual waste pickup. Thus, every individual who have segregated their waste is more than welcomed to send the waste to Waste4Change in order to be recycled.

Protecting our rivers from being polluted by waste means protecting the livelihood of many people who depend on them. If Thames can undergo such tremendous transformation, then it is not impossible for the rivers in Indonesia to do the same. Every person has their own role, starting from home, with a responsible waste management system.

In need of a responsible and segregated waste collection service? Do not hesitate to reach us!

References: