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Ganges River win would boost global water justice

The Globe and Mail reports today that, “The Ganges is perhaps the most sacred body of water on Earth – 60,000 people go to its banks to worship every day, and every year millions make a pilgrimage to Varanasi, which has been considered a holy place for thousands of years.”
THE GANGES IS ONE OF THE MOST POLLUTED RIVERS IN THE WORLD “The Ganges is also one of the world’s most polluted waterways. It runs 2,525 kilometres from its source in the Himalayas to empty into the Bay of Bengal. There are 116 cities along its banks, all expanding rapidly, none effectively treating its sewage. The Ganges basin is home to 40 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion people. Here in a city of two million in the heart of that basin, the river’s fecal-coliform count is 3,000 times the level recommended by the World Health Organization.”

“People bathing, doing laundry, washing dishes, watering livestock and burning their dead…causes only an estimated 5 per cent of the pollution. More comes from industries, especially leather-goods factories that dump effluent from tanning, loaded with chromium and arsenic, into the water. But the vast bulk of the pollution comes from domestic sewage: In Varanasi alone, along the seven kilometres of ghats, or steps, that lead down from the temples and shrines, there are 32 open sewage drains, spewing constantly.”

“For nearly 30 years, Veer Bhadra Mishra has been a fierce, tireless and woefully unsuccessful champion of his goddess, the Ganges River. (He is) the spiritual leader of a huge sect of Hinduism…He is (also) a professor emeritus of civil engineering at the huge Banaras Hindu University, an authority on hydraulic systems.”

“And although the river has grown steadily more polluted through his years of work, he is convinced that he and his band of loyal Ganges champions are now poised on the edge of a breakthrough, when a combination of spiritual and scientific wisdom will finally restore the purity of the river.”

“Working with William Oswald, a professor of engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, Prof. Mishra had designed an alternative: a sewage interception system that relied on ever-available gravity, rather than electricity, and open ponds that used bacteria, algae and India’s tropical heat to aerobically treat the fecal coliform, producing, after 45 days, harmless effluent that could be used in irrigation. Building it would cost just a small fraction of the state government’s system, and operating it would save $55-million (U.S.) a year.”

VICTORY COULD REINVIGORATE CALL FOR GLOBAL WATER JUSTICE The government of India now supports this plan, though it hasn’t allocated funds yet, but if this does move ahead, the “victory may reinvigorate a tired environmental movement in a nation where water-borne illnesses are the leading cause of child death – and a world in which unsafe water and sanitation are the source of 85 per cent of all disease. One in every six people on Earth has no access to clean drinking water, and last year, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon complained that that ‘progress is hampered by population growth, widespread poverty, insufficient investments…and the biggest culprit: a lack of political will.'”

The full feature article is worth reading and can be found at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20090307.GANGES07/TPStory/Environment