Our office and our revised scope of work

The past 2.5 weeks I’ve spent mostly at the Siruthuli office, learning as much as possible about the Valankulam tank and its surroundings as well as pollution and water hyacinth control. Initially, we had planned on giving Siruthuli advice on how the wastewater streams have to be directed and treated.

However, during the course of our research we found, that this is an impossible task to accomplish in only 4 weeks. Thorough water analysis of the water in the tank and of the water coming into the tank has to be carried out for a longer period of time before a good method for pollution control and wastewater treatment can be formulated.

Hence, we’ve revised our scope of work. We’ll be sketching a high-level approach on which steps have to be taken in order to make a solid decision on the pollution control method. Next to that, we’ll be giving Siruthuli advice on which organizations to partner with for knowledge exchange or financial grants. Finally, we’ll formulate suggestions on water hyacinth control and commercial ventures using harvested water hyacinth.

So this is where I’ve been spending most of my time:




Our patient

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 it made me sad to see the bad condition that the tank is in. Lots of work to be done. Here are some pictures of what we saw:

Navratri (2/2)

Here are some pictures of the decorated vehicles:

If you look closely in the first pictures, you’ll notice the lemons underneath all the tires. At the end of the celebration, these lemons have to be squeezed.

Navratri (1/2)

It’s holiday season here in India. Currently everyone is celebrating Navratri, a festival lasting 9 days. Each day, prayers are held for a particular goddess and each day they serve a particular purpose. On one day, machines will be worshiped so that they may function and help us for a long time. Vehicles will be washed and decorated with flowers that day (photos to follow). As you can see, also our computers received their little blessing.


Here’s what we saw the first couple of days in pictures:

Our first trip was to the local garbage dump. It made me realize that I haven’t even seen a German or Dutch garbage dump yet. I have yet to decide whether that should be an item for my bucket list or not….

The trucks and tractors arriving at the garbage dump are first sprayed with diluted EM solution…..

… before the garbage actually gets dumped…….

…. like here. The solution contains active microbes that accelerate the decomposition process and control bad odors and vermin. Other active microbes are added to the sewage lagoons….

… to extract nutrients from the water and again, control bad odors and vermin. The smell both at the dump site and the lagoon was not that bad at all!

The next day we visited some of the water reservoirs:

Some of the tanks are not polluted, mainly because there are no illegal dwellers nearby and because there is no open drainage leading into the tank. Other tanks though….

…. are almost completely covered with mats of water hyacinth. This tank was desilted and rejuvenated by Siruthuli a few years back but is now heavily polluted again.

… This tank is also heavily polluted. Yet some local children are trying their luck fishing. The fish is actually sold and eaten.

After roaming outside in the heat (~35° – 39°C) we had a well-deserved break sipping yummy coconut milk.

Indian hospitality

So far every Indian I met was so welcoming and generous! It is quite overwhelming really. Both at the hotel as well as at the client’s our Indian contacts try to fulfill all of our wishes.

Especially our client is really going to extremes. Already at the kickoff meeting we mentioned to Vanitha that we’d like to spend a weekend at a nature reserve close by, but hadn’t been able to make any reservations because it’s the holiday season. Immediately Vanitha took her phone and started organizing a weekend for us all (also the other teams).  Next week we’ll all be going to a fantastic guest house in the jungle – great!

Since our office is located a little outside shopping areas, going out for lunch is not an option. We decided to bring lunch from the hotel. When we told the people at Siruthuli we’d be bringing our own lunch they decided we needed a microwave to heat our lunch. We said we really did not need a microwave and they insisted we did. The next day we found the manual of a brand new microwave was on our desks….

Yesterday after our meeting Vanitha asked whether there was anything else she could do for us also unrelated to work. We answered whether she could indicate some nice shops for us to get Indian clothes. Immediately she made one of the employees go shopping with us after work! We also mentioned we’d be interested in getting traditional Ayurveda massages and whether she give us some suggestions. Again, she immediately picked up her phone to call some of her friends who can arrange for massages for all of us.

Everyone is inviting us over for dinners and lunches, and suggests all kinds of other activities. 4 weeks in Coimbatore is definitely not enough!


Two intense first days at the Siruthuli office

Our first two days at the Siruthuli were pretty intense. Tuesday we spent at the office. Mr. Myleswami and Raji showed us the office building which the NGO only moved into the office in June. Next to a nice office area they also have an auditorium for gatherings and awareness sesssions and a big exhibition area showing the different projects. We also saw the impressive number of awards Siruthuli received within only 8 years. Wednesday morning we were picked up by Sampad, a civil engineer working for Siruthuli. He took us to some of the projects that Siruthuli supports. First we visited some lagoons where part of the city’s sewage water is directed to. Siruthuli initiated that active microbes are added to the sewage water which accelerate the decomposition process and remove the bad odors and vermin that closeby residents had complained about. Moreover we saw the garbage dump. Siruthuli has all of the garbage going to the site sprayed with a solution, which again accelerates the decomposition process and keeps bad odor and vermin away.

Later that day we went to see a waste water treatment facility that was only opened in January this year. Sampad managed to even get us a tour of the facility. A very helpful chemist showed us around and explained how the water is treated. Apparently, no chemical products are added at all, but mechanical and biological processes clean the water within only 4 hours.

At the end of the afternoon we had a very productive meeting with Vanitha, where we discussed and agreed upon the content of our assignment. For the next three weeks we’ll be preparing a high-level plan regarding the sewage streams around the Valankulam tank and how they should be directed and treated.