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Millions Spent, but the Indian Capital's River Still Stinks

From a boat on the Yamuna River that flows past India's capital, it's easy to spot bubbles of fetid gas sent up to the water's surface by rotting sewage -- and that's after at least 350 million dollars has been spent on cleaning it up.

Now, with New Delhi to host the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and the sports village meant to house the athletes being built on the stinking river's banks, India must do in three years what has not been achieved in the last decade.

Boatman Lalla Navwalla, 36, whose brother spends eight hours a day swimming for coins tossed in by Hindu pilgrims who still revere the river, understands perfectly why the river is dirty.

"Once you could look 20 feet (six metres) down and see the coins," he said, looking expressionlessly at the opaque grey water.

"But after the eighties the population started growing and the river became dirty."

More people means more waste, and all of Delhi's three and a half billion litres (950 million gallons) of daily urine, excrement and other waste flow into the Yamuna -- much of it raw as treatment plants struggle to keep up.

"Delhi is growing very fast. The gap is always widening," said R.C. Trivedi, an official at India's Central Pollution Control Board monitoring agency.

Boatman Navwalla says he remembers when there were tortoises living in the water. Now the only thriving life forms are bacteria.

-- Nationwide problem --

What has happened in the Yamuna is happening to rivers all over India, where 30 percent of the population now lives in cities, straining infrastructure that was creaky to begin with.

These teeming cities take more and more water from rivers or groundwater reserves, returning it as barely treated waste.

Water-hungry Delhi dams the Yamuna north of the city and takes about 1.1 billion litres of fresh water, more than a third of what the city uses eve
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