The Ganges River
- Ganges River
Lonely Planet review for The Ganges River
The River Ganges provides millions of Indians with an important link to their spirituality. Every day about 60,000 people go down to the Varanasi ghats to take a holy dip along a 7km stretch of the river. Along this same area, 30 large sewers are continuously discharging into the river.
The Ganges River is so heavily polluted at Varanasi that the water is septic - no dissolved oxygen exists. The statistics get worse. Samples from the river show the water has 1.5 million faecal coliform bacteria per 100mL of water. In water that is safe for bathing this figure should be less than 500!
The problem extends far beyond Varanasi - 400 million people live along the basin of the Ganges River. The pollution levels mean that waterborne diseases run rampant among many villages that use water from the river.
The battle to clean up the Ganges River has been on since 1982 when the nonprofit Sankat Mochan Foundation established its Swatcha Ganga Abhiyan (Clean Ganges Campaign). Between 1986 and 1993 there was enough lobbying to see the government invest about US$25 million to set up three sewage treatment plants and an electric crematorium.
Unfortunately there have been many problems with the plants, which are very power intensive; Varanasi regularly has long blackout periods. In addition, their operation causes a build-up of pollution in nearby villages and is also the cause of sewage backing up throughout Varanasi; this in turn flows out into bathing areas, out through manhole covers and into the streets.
A plan for a better sewage treatment system, which has lower costs and is far more effective than the current system, has been developed by the foundation in collaboration with international agencies. The plan has not yet been accepted by the government, but the signs are good.
The Swatcha Ganga Environmental Education Centre at Tulsi Ghat runs environmental education courses with schools, local villages, pilgrims and boatmen. Changes have started to creep in, albeit slowly.
Visitors who wish to make a contribution, financially or through voluntary work efforts, should contact Professor Veer Bhadra Mishra at the Sankat Mochan Foundation (2313884; firstname.lastname@example.org).
When strolling along the ghats look out for the the Ganges dolphin (susu). It's a freshwater river dolphin that can be spotted throughout the Ganges river system. They are blind and rely on echo-location to get around and find small fish to eat. Usually seen alone or in small groups, the dolphins grow to 2m long and live for around 20 years. The young are chocolate brown but the adults are grey. The Ganges dolphins are endangered and protected - it is estimated that less than 4000 and as few as 2000 have survived fishermen's nets, poaching for their meat and oil, chemical and sewage pollution, and habitat restriction due to dams and barrages. It's a miracle that any have survived.