India’s longest river – the Ganges – has been a reluctant name in the list of the world’s most polluted rivers. Originating from the western Himalayas, this astounding work of nature gushes downward, turns right, and begins its eastbound journey for the Bay of Bengal. Several tributaries like the Yamuna, the Gandak and the Ghaghara join the Ganga in its 2500-kilometer journey across northern India.
Imagine a river with water as clear as water can be; with flourishing biodiversity and pollution a forgotten phenomenon. Sadly, the Ganga River is a painful contrast of this picture.
As noted by Mr. Y. Sharma in his case study published on behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme, the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council and the World Health Organization, the Ganga’s river basin spanning over 1 million square kilometers is home to 37 percent of India’s population. Significant for activities such as navigation, transportation and irrigation, the National River is a boon that we have misused.
Besides 37% of India’s population, several wildlife species (including India’s national aquatic animal, the Ganges River Dolphin) identify the Ganga River as their home. But with their home being destroyed precariously, survival has become a threatening challenge.
On a daily basis, nearly 3 billion liters of wastewater from sewage, domestic and industrial sources is dumped directly into the river. Among other things, the river has become a carrier of animal carcasses, human corpses and religious waste. Furthermore, the discharge of industrial effluents from tanneries in Kanpur or sugar mills in the Kosi, Ramganga and Kali river catchments into the Ganges has polluted it severely. The runoff of fertilizers and other chemicals into the river, defecation along its banks and large-scale bathing in the river have all contaminated the river. Massive deforestation along the banks of the river has also contributed to alarming decrease in rainfall.
The irony is that our actions are harming us. With the quality of Ganga’s water being deteriorated adversely, a grave threat has been inflicted over human health with increased chances of contracting diseases like cholera, hepatitis or even diarrhea. In fact, the Ganges’ pollution kills more people than bomb blasts.
Make no mistake, however. The list of the victims of Ganga’s pollution includes thousands of animals too. Take the Ganga River Dolphin, India’s National Aquatic Animal, for instance. A collapsing species, these dolphins are one of the few freshwater dolphins in the world. And our activities are thrusting the already endangered species towards the brink of extinction.
Numerous measures have been undertaken to right wrongs, but the Ganga River has not been restored to what it used to be earlier. The fact is that if we are responsible for pushing the Ganges to its miserable status quo, we can also be responsible for reversing this situation. There is always a sliver of hope for restoring the Ganges which the Environmentalist Foundation of India seeks to foster.