The Ganges is known as a wondrous river of legend and history whose epithets in Sanskrit texts include “eternally pure”, “a light amid the darkness of ignorance”, and “daughter of the Lord of Himalaya.” One hymn calls it the “sublime wine of immortality.” Yet the river whose waters and fertile silt have supported the densest populations of humans on earth for millennia is now under threat. Where its waters are not diverted for irrigation and hydro-electricity, they are befouled by sewage and poisoned by pesticides, industrial waste, carcinogenic heavy metals and bacterial genes that make lethal infections resistant to modern antibiotics. When I first wrote this sentence in the middle of the dry season, I was looking at a front-page story in The Hindu newspaper headlined “Is the mighty Ganga drying up?”. The conclusions of official measurements, academic papers, and the evidence of one’s own eyes are alarming for anyone who cares about human health or the environment.
After decades of false starts, scandals, and wasted money under previous governments, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a campaign in 2014 to clean the Ganges and save it for future generations. More than two years on, many of those who thought he would achieve something are bitterly disappointed by the lack of progress. It will in any case be a huge and costly task. But it is not impossible.
Find out more about the Ganges, its problems, and what can be done to save it with our interactive map.
Background image credit: Physical Features of India by A happy ThingLink User.
Featured image credit: India Varanasi Ganges Boats by TonW. Public domain via Pixabay.