Can Yamuna be saved? At University of Virginia, the answer is yes - Hindustan Times
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Can Yamuna be saved? At University of Virginia, the answer is yes

Mar 28, 2017 06:28 PM IST

Three years of work done by UVA with the ministry of water resources and the Delhi Jal Board through its project, Re-Centering Delhi, is being showcased in Delhi from March 29

It’s an important mission for an institute in faraway US, the University of Virginia (UVA) to be precise. It involves reviving a river we hold sacred but one which we have been choking to death through pollution – the Yamuna

Waterfront urban design for Shahdra, in Delhi.(Handout)
Waterfront urban design for Shahdra, in Delhi.(Handout)

The Yamuna River Project, an exhibition being unveiled tomorrow, March 29, at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre, will showcase three years of work done by UVA with the ministry of water resources and the Delhi Jal Board through its project, Re-Centering Delhi.

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Inaki Alday, Quesada professor of architecture at UVA and director of the project, shared more details with us.

Inaki Alday, Inaki Alday, Quesada professor of architecture at UVA and director of the Yamuna River Project. (Dan Addison/U.Va. University Com)
Inaki Alday, Inaki Alday, Quesada professor of architecture at UVA and director of the Yamuna River Project. (Dan Addison/U.Va. University Com)

The Yamuna River exhibition will open on March 29 – and will feature the Re-Centering Delhi project was launched three years ago. Please tell us about the progress made so far?

In the summer of 2016, after three years of research, the University of Virginia signed an MoU with the Delhi Jal Board to share information on Delhi, on the Yamuna and its tributaries, and on the urban infrastructures. The immediate focus of study is the Najafgarh Drain, the major source of pollution in the Yamuna. After several months of work, we are now presenting the first findings and scenario studies.

What about finances? How much money has the university invested in the project and what are the takeaways?

All of our work is covered by salaries so there have been no additional expenditures for the Yamuna River Project. In the coming months and years, following the duration of the MoU, the project will keep adding experts in different fields, increasing cooperation with Indian partners, and developing research in multiple areas with the objective of offering information and visualising possibilities to inform the public, others working on this issue, and those with the responsibility of making decisions.

Urban design proposal - Pankha Drain, located in Hastsal Village. (Handout)
Urban design proposal - Pankha Drain, located in Hastsal Village. (Handout)

How is Pankaj Vir Gupta, the Harry S Shure visiting professor of architecture, UVA, involved with the project?

Gupta conceived the project. When asked what he wanted to focus on during his professorship, Gupta didn’t hesitate. To him, the neglect of the Yamuna presented a unique opportunity to create a research focus and launching pad for a long-term relationship between UVA and India. Since its inception in the School of Architecture (UVA), the work has become a pan-University effort that draws from many disciplines, including environmental science, urban planning, history and public policy, to name a few. More than 60 students from architecture, landscape architecture, planning, environmental sciences and engineering have sifted through data and drawn plans to revitalise the Yamuna area since the project launched in 2013. They have made site visits to the Yamuna in Delhi to get an on-the-ground read of the situation.

Design proposal - Hapur Bypass Trans Yamuna Housing. (Handout)
Design proposal - Hapur Bypass Trans Yamuna Housing. (Handout)

How has UVA benefited from being a part of the project? Are you satisfied with the progress and do you think the river can be saved – especially its most polluted spots?

Being able to draw on UVA’s expertise and present a blueprint for recovery is hugely satisfying. This is not an impossible task. There are case studies in India and other countries in which polluted rivers and wicked urban conditions have been recovered and transformed.

The river and its environs have been restored and renewed in Ahmedabad, water scarcity has been solved in Singapore, water fronts have been recovered in Barcelona, dead rivers have come to life in the Ruhr in Germany, water remediation parks have been built in Zaragoza, Spain, floodable areas are healthy, accessible, and safe in Pamplona and in the Netherlands. The Yamuna and Delhi are a huge challenge that can be usefully addressed with a holistic approach informed by similarities and differences with successful precedents.

How ambitious are you about Re-Centering Delhi? Where do you see this collaboration going in five years?

Very.

In the coming months and years, following the duration of the MOU, the project will keep adding experts in different fields, increasing cooperation with Indian partners, and developing research in multiple areas with the objective of offering information and visualizing possibilities to inform the public, others working on this issue, and those with the responsibility of making decisions.

The Yamuna River Project Exhibition opens on Wednesday, March 29, 6.30 to 9.30 PM at India Habitat Centre Atrium, Lodhi Road.

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