8 Mile Khola

In truth, our planet should be called Water, not Earth. About 70 percent of the globe is blanketed by this life-giving liquid roughly 331 million cubic miles of it. But most of that is not available to us. All but 3 percent of Earth’s water is salty; and, of the remaining dab of fresh water, three-quarters is locked in ice. It gets worse. About half of what’s left, Earth’s unfrozen fresh water is 2,500 feet or more below ground, embedded in rock. That’s too deep to recover economically. Are you following these shrinking numbers? The accessible fresh water in lakes, rivers, groundwater, and the atmosphere makes up only half of one-quarter of 3 percent – for non-Einsteins that works out to 0.375 percent – of Earth’s total water. It’s precious stuff.

– Toby Hemenway, Gaia’s Garden.

‘Save 8 Mile Khola’ is a crusade by the villagers living in and around the 8 Mile, one of the major rivers in Darjeeling, to save their precious resource – 8 Mile river.

History of 8 Mile River

Imagine a rich bio-diverse rainforest bursting with animal and plant life. Bears, leopards, tigers, foxes and bisons hunting for wild boars, deer and rabbits whilst  the latter go about scurrying for cover between large oak, alder, magnolia, chestnuts and birch trees. This occasional  commotion leading to a flutter of birds of every hue and color on a blue sky that wasn’t tainted yet with the pollution of the modern day contraptions that we call vehicles. Early historians have written that there were probably few places in the world in which so many different types of flora and fauna existed within a small area.

The perennial 8 Mile river unlike a glacier fed river is a forest fed river hence it’s richer in minerals and nutrients. No wonder that some of the older folks remember the Britishers ferrying the nutrient rich natural ‘mineral water’ from 8 Mile river to Darjeeling and Kurseong during the early days of colonising the hills.

Present Day Situation

Today, the forests are no longer as dense or bio-diverse and the wildlife population has dropped considerably. However, 8 Mile river is probably one of the few major hill rivers that still has water gushing down even during the dry summer months. This in partly is because the river is still fed by a forest reserve and wildlife sanctuary (Senchel). The health of the river today is precarious because of primarily the following reasons:

  1. A dysfunctional waste management system and a terrible habit of – just dump it into the khola (river) and it will be washed away during the rains – which seems to be deeply ingrained in the local culture. It is easy to point fingers at the respective municipalities but it is a complex problem that requires not just a top-down approach but also movement that would be nothing short of a revolution at the grassroots level.
  2. The ‘Business’ of Water: Yes, unfortunately one of the most thriving economy in the hills seem to be of pumping water from anywhere upstream and supplying it to the town folks at a hefty price in water tankers or even leaky municipality pipes. 

  3. River Pollution: The menace of plastic in our new-age consumerist society cannot be stated enough. It is clogging our rivers no doubt, but untreated household waste water (including sewage) when directed to the rivers also has a toxic effect on the water quality.

What has been done so far?

When we realised the magnanimity of the problem, we decided very early that we had to evolve a strategy to tackle this problem in a slow but determined and foolproof manner. We ran a door-to-door campaign to educate the village folks, specially the roadside shop owners, to segregate their waste and for this separate bins were provided to collect the huge amount of organic waste that gets generated from their shops daily. Since then the workers and the volunteering community at TIEEDI have been collecting this so called waste (which in permaculture parlance is called ‘black gold’) daily and composting it to generate good soil.

Meanwhile, we completely cleaned up one of the tributaries of 8 Mile Khola that passes through the TIEEDI farm was cleaned up, to set an example before we talked about cleaning the bigger river. Just from this small river (jhora in Nepali) we managed to dig out 300 tons of inorganic waste that was clogging up the river completely!

We have initiated the process of creating a working body association involving members from the village community and in our first phase of discussions every household has agreed to help in cleaning the river by sending atleast one member of the family. Also the local association body will be meeting regularly to ensure that the following objectives are met.

What needs to be done further?

For the second phase of this project we have outlined the following objectives:

  1. Clean up the river completely by involving the community and other social organisations.
  2. Start the work on three model septic tanks and grey water harvesting systems that will cover about 20 households. This will partly stop the ground water and river water pollution due to household and sewage waste. We have already surveyed the houses and spoken to the owners and all of them have agreed to allow us to tweak their plumbing system to:
    • Separate the grey water from the sewage system and direct it into the community grey water harvesting pit. Following the principles of permaculture we would be filtering this water naturally that would eventually recharge the groundwater levels once it’s filtered.
    • Connect the sewage water into a community septic tank which also would be designed to harvest humanure (human manure) or connect it to a bio-gas generating system.
  3. Form a local members association and involve the community, especially the youth to run an awareness campaign and work out a functional system for segregation, recycling and up-cycling of waste.
  4. Start a community composting unit and use this soil generated to plant trees and flowers to beautify the surrounding areas of the village.

Once we achieve this objective we will look at next set of objectives which can be classified as follows:

  1. Survey and cover all the households to have septic tanks and grey water harvesting systems so that there is no household waste water polluting the river.
  2. Setup a small scale waste management industry that segregates, composts, recycles and disposes waste responsibly.
  3. Link the other benefits of having a environmentally conscious community by opening up the possibilities of promoting eco-tourism and community homestay networks.

How are we executing this project?

We have a core management team with a combined experience of over two decades in the higher management within the corporate world, and the team will execute this project following the six sigma DMAIC principles of Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve & Control. We are combining this corporate efficiency principles with the Permaculture principles to ensure that the project achieves its objectives. In addition, following are some of the other basic principles we have outlined to ensure the success of this project:

  1. Analyse all costs in the project in depth. Add a buffer of 20%.
  2. Appoint a skilled and experienced Project Coordinator with good interpersonal skills. Cover his/her basic cost for two months with a minimum salary.
  3. Get a highly skilled excellent team of workers to execute the construction part of the project.
  4. Involve the community in every aspect of the project. Encourage volunteering but hire two locals for paid position so that the work doesn’t get affected at any given point of time.
  5. Educate! Educate! Educate! All the stakeholders need to understand why this project is critical and how the success of this project is going to be a win-win situation for everyone. Conduct awareness camps for children – they will be ones to ensure that the changes are long terms and sustainable.
  6. Create an environment where the local community feels empowered enough to take the initiative and participate responsibly. And thereby ensuring that none of this comes across as a handout.

Taking forward the last point, the ultimate objective of this project is to ensure that after this kick-starter it is self sustainable. We are looking to generate revenues from this process that to be not just sustainable but also regenerative in the coming days.

How can you help?

Given the scale of this project we need all the help that we can get. There are a number of ways that you can participate in this crusade:

  • River cleanup drive: Starting 30th of April every Sunday has been earmarked as a river cleanup day and you can join us as a volunteer to help us remove the existing waste from the river. The details of the river clean-up drive will be posted on the facebook page. Pls follow the page (https://www.facebook.com/save8milekhola/) to stay updated on the event details
  • Financial Assistance: Our cost evaluation for the execution of the second phase of the project is Rs. 350,000. You can help us in our cause by donating funds in our crowdfunding campaign.
  • Donate in Kind: There are a number of materials that we would require and you can help us by donating some of these items. Please click here for the current updated list of items and raw materials that we require.
  • Volunteer with us: Apart from the hands required in the actual physical work of cleaning the river, we need help in a lot of other activities. We look forward to skilled professionals who can join our team and brainstorm with us to execute the projects. Interested volunteers can fill up our volunteer application form  and we will get back with the details on how they can contribute to our cause. You need not be physically present here to contribute. You can even help us online.

Project Updates

All campaign donors will be sent a weekly project status update via email by the Project Coordinator. You can also follow our facebook page for latest updates on the project status: https://www.facebook.com/save8milekhola/