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Troubled waters: India’s Ganges River has bleak outlook

India’s Ganges River (also known as Ganga) has always had a revered spot among Indians for its cultural and religious importance. It supports nearly 400 million lives as it flows from the Himalayas and undoubtedly one of the world’s most prominent rivers.

Recently, a disconcerting report has highlighted that the river is highly vulnerable to climate change. Citing altering rainfall patterns and increasing likelihood of evapotranspiration rates due to climate change, the study notes that the Ganges are likely to reduce in flow and quantity. The basin is situated in highly populated urban and rural regions that dependent on the water source for daily livelihood activities ranging from baths to irrigation for farming. The study is quick to also point that some of the reduction in flow can be attributed to current dam projects and problems of increased irrigation, pollution, and sedimentation. Given such prospects, there are valid concerns over India’s ambitious National River Linking Project that is set to link India’s rivers across the nation in attempt to relieve water scarcity by physically transferring water from water-abundant regions within the country.  Would it be wise to invest in this project given the possibility of rivers running dry? For Indian states experiencing water scarcity pressures, such as those in the South, the proposal is welcomed given the yearly dry up of rivers. Still ongoing debates over the project’s value, potential continue.

In addition, pollution of Indian rivers is rampant. Despite being given a ‘National River’ status and initiating a basin-wide authority, natives in the region are still concerned  that the river’s flow has been altered due to numerous hydro electric projects and over pollution. Criticism has been piled on the state government for not doing enough to monitor and regulate the river. Development goals have often superseded and/or clouded the state’s abilities to regulate waterways in a unified and unbiased manner.

Without a doubt, the Ganges Basin Authority established this past February has a tough task ahead. Pollution control needs to be a top priority and measurable goals to be reached in set timeframes established. As some have noted, this governing structure is relatively new for the Indian Government which has often delegated water management duties to state level governments rather than basin-wide approaches, yet if there is positive outcomes in this current initiative, the Ganges may serve to be a model case for other rivers throughout India.

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