Thousands of worshippers pray in river polluted with toxic FOAM near Delhi4 min read

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Shocking photos show thousands of Indian people praying in a river near Delhi polluted with toxic foam. 

Authorities declared a health emergency in Delhi last week, with air pollution so bad that schools were forced to close and the number of cars on the road were limited.

And the pollution problem also affected the Yamuna River, which provides drinking water to the city’s nearly 20 million residents. 

The river was filled with toxic foam, caused partly by high ammonia levels emanating from industrial pollutants. 

A Hindu festival saw thousands of devotees offering prayers while standing in the toxic foam.

People pose for pictures as they stand amidst the foam covering the polluted Yamuna river on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India

People pose for pictures as they stand amidst the foam covering the polluted Yamuna river on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India

An Indian Hindu devotee performs rituals in the Yamuna river, covered by chemical foam caused by industrial and domestic pollution

An Indian Hindu devotee performs rituals in the Yamuna river, covered by chemical foam caused by industrial and domestic pollution

Praying in rivers is commonplace in India and in the photos of people wading into the Yamuna river, worshippers were marking the Chhath Puja festival.

The festival is held to thank the Sun for ‘bestowing the bounties of life on earth’ and for fulfilling wishes. 

Water from the river is chemically treated before being supplied to Delhi’s millions of residents as drinking water.

‘The water is absolutely black in color,’ said Hari Lal, a New Delhi resident who was on the river bank Wednesday. ‘The water is all chemical.’

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Kujan Sahani, a worker from eastern Bihar state, complained that his nose and eyes burned and he was feeling breathlessness.

But despite the dangers of a heavily polluted river, some Indians posed happily for photos with the foam.  

Environmental activists say many rivers across India have become dirtier as the country’s economy develops, with city sewage, farming pesticides and industrial effluents freely flowing into waterways despite laws against polluting.

And India isn’t the only country to witness the toxic foam phenomenon, with photos showing a river in North Jakarta covered in the substance. 

It is unclear what caused the foam to appear in Indonesia.  

It comes as air pollution in New Delhi and surrounding areas reached this year’s worst level on November 3 and 4.  

Hindu women worship the Sun god in the polluted waters of the river Yamuna during the Hindu religious festival of Chatth Puja in New Delhi, India

Hindu women worship the Sun god in the polluted waters of the river Yamuna during the Hindu religious festival of Chatth Puja in New Delhi, India

Water from the river is chemically treated before being supplied to Delhi's millions of residents as drinking water

Water from the river is chemically treated before being supplied to Delhi’s millions of residents as drinking water

Authorities declared a health emergency in Delhi last week, with air pollution so bad that schools were forced to close

Authorities declared a health emergency in Delhi last week, with air pollution so bad that schools were forced to close

A Supreme Court-appointed panel temporarily banned construction activity in the New Delhi region to control the dust in the air.

Authorities also barred smoke-spewing cargo trucks from city streets, experimented at limiting the number of cars on the road and tried to snuff out stubble and garbage fires and ordered builders to cover construction sites to stop dust from enveloping the area.

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But India’s air pollution problem extends far beyond the more than 20 million residents of New Delhi. 

Its northern belt is one of the most densely populated parts of the planet.

The industrial hub of Kanpur, home to 3 million people, is followed by 13 Indian cities on a World Health Organization (WHO) list of places with the worst air.

Although air quality readings have consistently stayed above 500 for consecutive days, Kanpur, like most other Indian cities, lacks the infrastructure necessary to fight air pollution, and has adopted few emergency measures. 

Environmental activists say many rivers across India have become dirtier as the country's economy develops

Environmental activists say many rivers across India have become dirtier as the country’s economy develops

'The water is absolutely black in color,' said Hari Lal, a New Delhi resident who was on the river bank Wednesday

‘The water is absolutely black in color,’ said Hari Lal, a New Delhi resident who was on the river bank Wednesday

A Hindu couple worships the Sun god in the polluted waters of the river Yamuna during the Hindu religious festival of Chatth Puja in New Delhi, India

A Hindu couple worships the Sun god in the polluted waters of the river Yamuna during the Hindu religious festival of Chatth Puja in New Delhi, India

The shocking toxic foam is believed to have been caused partly by high ammonia levels emanating from industrial pollutants

The shocking toxic foam is believed to have been caused partly by high ammonia levels emanating from industrial pollutants

Farmers in India’s breadbasket states of Punjab and Haryana burn off rice paddy straw and stubble every year in preparation for the winter sowing season.

This year, satellites began to detect a significant number of fires in late October. 

Further analysis of satellite data showed the spike in fires has been shifting later into winter, when lower temperatures and weaker winds swell the accumulation of pollutants.

The shift was pushed by a 2009 policy change intended to save groundwater, which bars farmers from transplanting paddy seedlings until the middle of June, instead of a previous date of mid-May.

India wasn't the only nation to be affected by the toxic foam phenomenon, with the substance taking over parts of the East Flood Canal, Marunda, North Jakarta

India wasn’t the only nation to be affected by the toxic foam phenomenon, with the substance taking over parts of the East Flood Canal, Marunda, North Jakarta

The reason for the foam on the East Flood Canal in Marunda, North Jakarta is unknown

The reason for the foam on the East Flood Canal in Marunda, North Jakarta is unknown 

Rice is a terribly thirsty crop, and some varieties require almost 5,000 litres of water for every kilogram of grain produced.

Late sowing means a late harvest. With less time left for the winter crop, farmers tend to burn the straw to get rid of it quickly. High in silica content, paddy straw cannot be used to feed animals.

India’s monsoon also arrived a little late this year. 

After a June start, it began withdrawing more than a month later than usual, causing yet more delay.