By the River (2017 | Issue 4)

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Indian Rivers: Sending Out an SOS!

From the mighty Himalayas down to the peninsula, India has been blessed with its fair share of rivers. The ancient Indus Valley civilisation thrived on the banks of one such river. Millions of Indians continue to rely on rivers for their daily needs and sustenance. What’s Up, Germany? takes a closer look at the current state of India’s rivers.

Unfortunately, thanks to negligence, staggering population growth, unplanned construction, groundwater overuse and climate change, many of our rivers are polluted and ridden with filth. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), 75 percent of the pollution in our rivers comes from municipal sewage and 25 percent from industrial effluents. The waste from industries causes maximum harm, since it is both toxic and non-biodegradable.


India’s most important and holiest river, the Ganga, is one of the most endangered rivers in the entire world. Around one billion litres of raw sewage ends up in the Ganga on a daily basis! The Yamuna, too, has become a toxic cocktail of chemicals and sewage. This deterioration in water quality immediately impacts people. Nearly one-third of deaths in India are because of water-borne diseases!


So, on the one side we have rampant pollution, and on the other side, we are facing water shortages. A quarter of India’s land is literally turning into desert! The Krishna and Narmada rivers have already lost 60 percent of their flow. The situation is bleak. It is predicted that in 15 years’ time, we may only have half the water we need for our survival! To top it all, nearly 70 percent of our water supply is contaminated.


The agricultural sector, which consumes nearly 90 percent of the country’s water resources, has been the worst hit because of dried up water sources. For farmers, the result has been devastating: crop failure, debt and even suicide. To increase the availability of water, India continues to pump more groundwater. According to a European Commission report, there are more than two crore boreholes in the country today!


Due to climate change, our perennial rivers are increasingly becoming seasonal, while the smaller ones are simply vanishing! Alternating periods of flood and drought are becoming more frequent, costing people their homes and their lives. In May 2016, the river Ganga was so dry in Prayag, Uttar Pradesh, that the locals could walk across it! Just a few months later, all hell broke loose due to floods.

  • Originating in the Gangotri glacier in the Himalayas, the 2,500km-long Ganga River flows across five Indian states before it empties into the Bay of Bengal.
  • The Ganga basin is one of the world’s largest living river systems.
  • Varanasi, often regarded as India’s spiritual capital, lies on the banks of the Ganga.
  • Hindus worship “Ganga Mata” or “Mother Ganga” as a goddess. Taking a dip in its waters is believed to wash away all sins. No wonder the Kumbh Mela, during which millions of people take a ritual bath, is the largest gathering on earth!
  • The fertile Sundarbans delta, formed when the Ganga and the Brahmaputra enter the Bay of Bengal, is the largest in the world.
  • The Ganga is home to 140 different fish species, 90 varieties of amphibians and five kinds of aquatic mammals, many of which are almost extinct, including the Gangetic dolphin and the Ganges shark.

“The river has taught me to listen; you will learn from it, too. The river knows everything;
one can learn everything from it.”
— Hermann Hesse, author