Besides being a holy river for Hindus, the Ganges also provides water to millions of people in India. Unfortunately, billions of liters of human feces and other sewage is dumped into this river, threatening not only humans, but the natural ecosystem of the river. Fortunately, there are people in the Indian government and regular citizens looking to bring attention to this problem.
Most of the main pollution issues with the Ganges deals with improper sewage management. New Delhi alone produces 3.6 billion liters of sewage daily, with only half being treated effectively. Some of the tributaries of the Ganges, like Yamuna, have already become unusable since 70 percent of the pollution is caused from human excrement. While there are around 300 processing facilities in India, many are poorly managed and oft times treated waste is mixed in with untreated and then thrown back into the water. This kind of pollution can cause serious water-born diseases like severe diarrhea, a leading cause of death among children in India [Source: World Environment News]. Besides the pollution, the river is facing other hardships. Due to the changing climate, scientists have stated that the Gangotri glacier, which provides up to 70 percent of the water of the Ganges during the summer months, is decreasing at a rate of 40 yards a year. By 2030, the glacier may be completely melted and the Ganges will become a more seasonal river largely dependent on monsoons. Not only would this put India in danger, the river provides water for 500 million in India alone, many other Asian countries depend on the river as their main water source [Source: The Boston Globe]. Of course, climate change is already affecting the Ganges fresh water supply. Due to rising sea levels more salt water has begun flowing into the Ganges. This has been noted by the appearance of mangroves along the Ganges river belt, as well as an increase in of salt water fish in the river. According to Pranabes Sanyal, the eastern India representative of the National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA), the sea had extended as far as Kolkata 6,500 years ago, and he fears the same is happening now. Not only will the rising salinity affect drinking water, it will also This phenomenon is called salinate the groundwater and turn agricultural lands barren in neighbroing rural belts [Source: Reuters]. Increase in salinity of the river would also lead to the extinction of one of the few freshwater dolphins. Currently the population stands at 2,000 though they numbers continue dropping due to actual poaching, accidental deaths by fishing nets [Source: Planet Green].
Despite all of these issues that the government of India faces, one individual is attempting to bring worldwide attention to this problem. Rajendra Singh, also known as the Gandhi of Water, is planning to travel along the entire length of the Ganges, starting from the Goumouk glacier to the Bay of Bengal. He plans on documenting the entire travel to show the misuse and pollution of the river and come up with workable solutions. For Singh, the idea of a centralized water and sewage system might be too cost prohibitive for many rural parts of India. Instead he pushes for smaller solutions utilizing the necessary technology for rural and developing areas that focus on the needs of the river and people along it rather than profit [Source: Treehugger]. The Indian government has also been slowly changing their attitude towards the river and recently canceled a hydropower plant along one of the Ganges tributaries, the Bhagirathi River. While the project would not have created a dam, the plant would divert 16 kilometers of river through pipes. Construction had been delayed for a year due to scientists AD Agarwal hunger strike and was finally shot down along with three other projects. The decision was made in part for religious reasons but was made mainly because it was impossible to prove the future viability of these plants. Changing precipitation and melting glaciers would effect the output of these plants and eventually render them useless. The Indian government, instead of allowing others to build along the river, have protected 135 km stretch from Gaumukh to Uttarkashias as an environmentally sensitive area [Source: Times of India].
The Ganges river is not only a holy sanctuary for many Hindus, it is literally the lifeblood of Asia. Not only does the river provide drinking water to the people, it also waters the crop and offers food. Unfortunately, there is more than pollution that affects the Ganges, and if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed then the river will either become too salinated for normal use or disappear completely.