India: Looming Ganges Water Crisis a threat to daily lives Print E-mail

 Tuesday July 5 2005

India - Water Crisis

Reporter: Geoff Thompson

The Ganges is not just a Holy river. One in fifteen people living on the planet today depend on the waterway.

In this report Delhi Correspondent Geoff Thompson investigates the cause of India’s looming water crisis.

Some scientists believe that the massive Himalayan glacier that feeds the river is disintegrating due to a smog-generated microclimate that now hangs over the mountains, while other experts say poor water resource management, the dumping of industrial waste, sewerage and over population are to blame.

Already, some middle class housing estates are being constructed that will have no access to water on tap relying instead on water tankers and bottled water.

Not only does this pose environmental disaster but also a spiritual crisis – as the Ganges is at the heart of India’s Hindu faith. From the beginning of life until its end Hindus look to the river for ritual cleansing.

Thompson meets Dr. Veer Bhadra Mishra, the dynamic founder of the Save the Ganges Campaign, the spiritual head of one of the largest and most important Hindu temples on the river, Dr. Mishra is also a hydraulic engineer who has mounted a political campaign to implement effective water conservation policies – now totally lacking.

Dr. Mishra grapples with a conflict between spirituality and scientific reality – as a holy man, Mishra bathes daily in the critically polluted river... as a scientist, he knows that it could kill him.
“My rational training, my scientific information says that there is something not good about Ganga water and the pollution level in the water is dangerously high“, he says.

Thompson accompanies Dr. Mishra on a journey down the river to meet the villagers and worshippers who see her polluted waters as the nectar of life.

He also talks to water activist and academic Dr Vandana Shiva, another passionate water activist who has also dedicated her life to saving India’s rivers.

She tells Thompson "We have to find ways to make this situation reverse because if in our life time we cannot make it reverse then in our life time we will see an end to one of the biggest civilisations the world has known."

Naresh Dayal from India’s National River Conservation Directorate does not agree and argues that the Ganges River has if anything improved.

"I don’t think it’s as much of a health hazard as it is made out to be."

But as Thompson discovers the river is making people sick.

In India's capital New Delhi water poses another threat to the residents daily lives. Water apartheid means that some parts of the city receive hundreds of litres a day while others get next to none. Children in poor communities are even being killed in the desperate scramble to quench their thirst.