THE Ganges River, India’s heavily polluted spiritual artery, has dropped to alarmingly low levels and begun receding from the historic Varanasi Ghats, which attract millions of pilgrims and tourists each year.
Environmentalists say levels in the upper reaches of the river below the Himalayas, as well as downstream, are several metres lower than they should be at a time when heavy rains and spring melt from Himalayan glaciers normally increase flows. At Varanasi, the water has receded as much as 3m in some areas from the holy ghats, considered one of the most sacred Hindu spots India.
The blame is being laid at the feet of the country’s major hydroelectric projects in the upper reaches of the river, which hoard massive volumes of river flow in dams and barrages. But unregulated water extraction at all points along the 2500km river, for farming, cities, industry and hydroelectricity, has also reached unsustainable levels.
At the Bim Goda barrage alone, outside the Himalayan tourist town of Haridwar, 9 per cent of the river’s total flow is believed to be diverted. The effects of climate change on Himalayan glaciers — a controversial topic in India — are also suspected of contributing to the river’s reduced flows.
A 2007 UN climate report prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that glaciers feeding the Ganges could disappear by 2030, although that was found to be overly pessimistic.
Some 350 million Indians live along the Ganges, sending millions of litres of raw human and animal waste and industrial run-off into its channel. At some points Ganges water, supposed to be spiritually cleansing, is said to contain up to 3000 times the recommended safe levels of faecal coliforms.
The federal government has established a National Ganga River Basin Authority to oversee the river’s management and rehabilitation. In November, it blocked plans for three new hydro projects.
Environmentalists say that it is not enough. River campaigner M.C. Mehta, who has been fighting a 26-year legal battle with the Indian government to clean up the Ganges, says he is alarmed by the plight of the river. “The water has receded very dramatically when the water should be increasing because of snow melt and heavy rains,” he said yesterday. “In the downstream reaches now there is no flow in the river at all. It’s not a good thing. The river has a right to live and a right to sufficient water flows. India is not India without the Ganges.” Source>>
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on the mountain and climate related issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last two years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>