Day of Action for Rivers: Are Our Clean Up Actions on Track? | The Weather Channel
March 14 is celebrated as the International Day of Action for Rivers since 1997. Started through an international network of dam-affected people, this day has become a global movement against the human-induced destruction of the river bodies that are the lifelines for billions.
In India, decades of unfinished efforts to clean up the Ganga stand testimony to the enormous amount of focused action required to win the battle against river pollution. The efforts to clean up the river, considered holy by many Indians, started in 1985. More than ₹4000 crores was spent between then and 2014. The flagship programme of the Union Government, ‘National Mission for Clean Ganga’ or the ‘Namami Gange Programme’ was approved in June 2014 with a whopping budget outlay of ₹20,000 crores. Five years since launch, the programme still struggles to achieve its goals.
Where does the problem lie?
Millions of Indians depend on rivers for their existence. Rivers provide drinking water and nourish agriculture and manufacturing. Then why do we let rivers die?
Chemicals from factories, decaying wastes from tanneries, torrents of sewage from households, tonnes of garbage from large gatherings, and fertilisers from farms-everything eventually ends up in our rivers. Therefore, despite all pollution control measures, water quality in most rivers across the country has continuously deteriorated.
According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the number of polluted river stretches across the country has increased from 302 in 2015 to 351 in 2018. The Ganga, India’s longest and most important river, is a case in point. As of August 2018, only 63 out of 235 sewage treatment plants along the Ganga were completed. As per the 2018 year-end review report of the Ministry of Water Resources, riverfront development works were in progress on only 145 ghats and 53 crematoria as opposed to the 182 ghats and 118 crematoria claimed on the Namami Gange website.
Can we clean up the mess?
Although the current situation looks grim, there are reasons to be hopeful. The increasing focus on the river health among policymakers as well as citizens is a good sign. The growing awareness about water pollution can reduce further degradation and can generate the necessary political will for clean-up.
Focusing on a few basic actions is key. First is stringent implementation of existing rules for proper treatment of industrial effluents and domestic sewage before discharge into rivers. Open defecation near river banks is another persistent issue. All 4465 villages on the banks of the Ganges have been declared open defecation free by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. However, lack of sewage treatment plants undermines this success. In addition, rampant open defecation on the banks has continued unabated in other parts of the country.
Agricultural waste outflow remains another issue to be tackled. But the state of Sikkim has shown the way. It has embraced organic agriculture-a step in the right direction, as it ensures reduced use of chemical fertilisers that eventually flow into our rivers. Chemical effluents not only impact drinking water quality but also destroy the biodiversity of our rivers. Mahseer fish, found in the Cauvery belt, for instance, was recently listed as an endangered species due to the combined effects of pollution, habitat destruction and degraded migration paths.
Excessive consumption of river water, extensive damming, and changing rain patterns are all threat to the water flow in the rivers. Maintaining the stream flow is of paramount importance to make them resilient to sudden degradation. The decreasing water flow, especially during non-monsoon months, affects the hydrological interconnectedness, meaning it affects the natural water balance in the region. Such imbalances can have dangerous consequences such as a significant drop in the groundwater table.
Moreover, the reduced stream flow accentuates the vulnerability of farming to changing weather patterns. The accelerating impacts of climate change, in turn, threaten the flow of water in many rivers by affecting glacier melt and rainfall patterns. Extensive damming and river interlinking projects that aim to address water scarcity can also backfire, if not executed with utmost caution.
The central government’s budget called the clean rivers the ‘fifth dimension’ of its vision, but only time will tell if our actions are in the right direction. Perhaps, this day of action for rivers is the right time to evaluate our efforts and correct course.
Originally published at https://weather.com.