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  • Writer's pictureBharat Elango

Pollution in the Ganges

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

The Ganges River, also known as Ganga, is one of the most sacred places in all of India. Stretching from high in the Himalaya Mountains down into the Bay of Bengal, the Ganges River provides water for over 500 million people while being ranked fifth for the most polluted river in the world. Not only does the Ganges River supply water for half a billion people, but it also is used and depended on for spiritual purposes. Hindus all over India cleanse themselves and drink out of the Ganges' water.

However, taking baths and drinking are not the only things the Ganges provides for. Animal waste, industrial waste, sewage, and human remains flow all throughout the river, causing the Ganges to become more and more polluted every day.

The Ganges River is now plagued with deadly bacteria that can resist some types of antibiotics. Many pathogenic bacteria, such as Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio, Enterobacter, and Escherichia, are thriving in large quantities along the river. The Ganges is so polluted that it has been compared to diluted sewage with its large amounts of waste and bacteria free-floating in its water. Due to the large amounts of bacteria being present, micro-organisms that kill bacteria, called bacteriophages, have been found in large numbers within the water. According to a Harvard study, bacteriophages are able to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute states that the Ganges contains around 1,100 types of bacteriophages. In the Ganges, there are three times more bacteriophages than bacteria. Although it does not solve the Ganges' pollution crisis, having many bacteriophages will eventually purify the water of most types of bacteria over many years.

The Ganges River, even with the bacteriophages, is still incredibly polluted with waste from factories and homes. Nevertheless, the Indian government has issued many clean-ups of the Ganges and has taken measures to prevent the holy river from getting any more polluted for the safety of the Indian people.

No matter how much the government cleans up the river, the pollution never seems to dissipate. Due to many religious traditions, such as bathing and cremation, the river constantly has more and more waste dropped into it. As many as 40 thousand cremations take place every year in the Ganges; many families cannot afford enough wood to completely cremate the bodies which causes the bodies to only be half-burnt when floating down the river.

Although $3 billion of funds have been allocated to cleaning up the Ganges, the many thousands of Indians using the river every day kept making the clean-ups obsolete; that is until the Coronavirus forced many Indian people into lockdown. Since the Coronavirus has killed 407 thousand people as of July 11th, the Indian people have been forced inside their homes to limit the spread, in turn making the Ganges less used. Due to many cremations being on land and many people not able to bathe in the Ganges river, the pollution is at an all-time low. Additionally, 10% of the pollution in the Ganges is from industries, and with many industries being closed the water has become clear and much purer. Consequentially, the surrounding areas alongside the Ganges have become much healthier.

The Indian government's clean-ups of the Ganges River usually do not work well, however, through the determination of the Indian people to restore their holy river to its former glory, there is hope for the Ganges to become clear and pure again.

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