Friday, April 02, 2010

An article on Ganga by Dr. Amarnath Giri

Hindus have always believed that water from India's Ganges River has extraordinary powers. The Indian emperor Akbar called it the "water of immortality" and always traveled with a supply. The British East India Co. used only Ganges water on its ships during the three-month journey back to England, because it stayed "sweet and fresh."
Indians have always claimed it prevents diseases, but are the claims wives' tales or do they have scientific substance?

In the fourth installment of a six-part series, independent producer Julian Crandall Hollick searched for the "mysterious X factor" that gives Ganges water its mythical reputation.
He starts his investigation looking for the water's special properties at the river's source in the Himalayas. There, wild plants, radioactive rocks, and unusually cold, fast-running water combine to form the river. But since 1854, almost all of the Ganges' water has been siphoned off for irrigation as it leaves the Himalayas.

Hollick speaks with DS Bhargava, a retired professor of hydrology, who has spent a lifetime performing experiments up and down Ganges in the plains of India. In most rivers, Bhargava says, organic material usually exhausts a river's available oxygen and starts putrefying. But in the Ganges, an unknown substance, or "X factor" that Indians refer to as a "disinfectant," acts on organic materials and bacteria and kills them. Bhargava says that the Ganges' self-purifying quality leads to oxygen levels 25 times higher than any other river in the world.

Hollick's search for a scientific explanation for the X factor leads him to a spiritual leader at an ashram and a biologist in Kanpur. But his best answer for the Ganges' mysterious substance comes from Jay Ramachandran, a molecular biologist and entrepreneur in Bangalore.

In a short science lesson, Ramachandran explains why the Ganges doesn't spread disease among the millions of Indians who bathe in it. But he can't explain why the river alone has this extraordinary ability to retain oxygen.

Although many small streams comprise the headwaters of the Ganges, the six longest headstreams and their five confluences are given both cultural and geographical emphasis (see the map showing the headwaters of the river). The Alaknanda river meets the Dhauliganga river at Vishnuprayag, the Nandakini river at Nandprayag, the Pindar river at Karnaprayag, the Mandakini river at Rudraprayag and finally the Bhagirathi river at Devprayag, to form the mainstem, the Ganges. The Bhagirathi is the source stream; it rises at the foot of Gangotri Glacier, at Gaumukh, at an elevation of 3,892 m (12,769 ft). The headwaters of the Alaknanda are formed by snowmelt from such peaks as Nanda Devi, Trisul, and Kamet.

After flowing 200 km through its narrow Himalayan valley, the Ganges debouches on the Gangetic Plain at the pilgrimage town of Haridwar. There, a dam diverts some of its waters into the Ganges Canal, which irrigates the Doab region of Uttar Pradesh. The Ganges, whose course has been roughly southwestern until this point, now begins to flow southeast through the plains of northern India.

Further, the river follows an 800 km curving course passing through the city of Kanpur before being joined from the southwest by the Yamuna at Allahabad. This point is known as the Sangam at Allahabad. Sangam is a sacred place in Hinduism. According to ancient Hindu texts, at one time a third river, the Sarasvati, met the other two rivers at this point.

Joined by numerous rivers such as the Kosi, Son, Gandaki and Ghaghra, the Ganges forms a formidable current in the stretch between Allahabad and Malda in West Bengal. On its way it passes the towns of Kanpur, Soron, Kannauj, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna, Ghazipur, Bhagalpur, Mirzapur, Ballia, Buxar, Saidpur, and Chunar. At Bhagalpur, the river meanders past the Rajmahal Hills, and begins to run south. At Pakur, the river begins its attrition with the branching away of its first distributary, the Bhāgirathi-Hooghly, which goes on to form the Hooghly River. Near the border with Bangladesh the Farakka Barrage, built in 1974, controls the flow of the Ganges, diverting some of the water into a feeder canal linking the Hooghly to keep it relatively silt-free.

After entering Bangladesh, the main branch of the Ganges is known as the Padma River until it is joined by the Jamuna River, the largest distributary of the Brahmaputra. Further downstream, the Ganges is fed by the Meghna River, the second largest tributary of the Brahmaputra, and takes on the Meghna's name as it enters the Meghna Estuary. Fanning out into the 350 km wide Ganges Delta, it finally empties into the Bay of Bengal. Only two rivers, the Amazon and the Congo, have greater discharge than the combined flow of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Surma-Meghna river system.

The Ganges river has been considered one of the dirtiest rivers in the world. [The extreme pollution of the Ganges affects 400 million people who live close to the river. The river waters start getting polluted right at the source. The commercial exploitation of the river has risen in proportion to the rise of population. Gangotri and Uttarkashi are good examples too. Gangotri had only a few huts of Sadhus until the 1970s[ and the population of Uttrakashi has swelled in recent years. As it flows through highly populous areas the Ganges collects large amounts of human pollutants, e.g., Schistosoma mansoni and faecal coliforms, and drinking and bathing in its waters therefore carries a high risk of infection. While proposals have been made for remediating this condition, little progress has been achieved. Recently, the World Bank has agreed to loan India one billion US dollars over the next five years to clean up the Ganges.

Along the 4 miles (6.4 kilometres) stretch of terraced bathing ghats in the holy city of Varanasi, the water of the Ganges is a "brown soup of excrement and industrial effluents." The water there contains 60,000 faecal coliform bacteria per 100 ml, 120 times the official limit of 500 faecal coliforms/100ml that is considered safe for bathing.

The Ganges river's long-held reputation as a purifying river appears to have a basis in science. First of all, the river carries bacteriophages that vanquish bacteria and more. As reported in a National Public Radio program, dysentery and cholera are killed off, preventing large-scale epidemics. The river has an unusual ability to retain dissolved oxygen, but the reason for this ability is unknown.

Climate change: The Tibetan Plateau contains the world's third-largest store of ice. Qin Dahe, the former head of the China Meteorological Administration, said that the recent fast pace of melting and warmer temperatures will be good for agriculture and tourism in the short term; but issued a strong warning:
"Temperatures are rising four times faster than elsewhere in China, and the Tibetan glaciers are retreating at a higher speed than in any other part of the world.... In the short term, this will cause lakes to expand and bring floods and mudflows. . . . In the long run, the glaciers are vital lifelines for Asian rivers, including the Indus and the Ganges. Once they vanish, water supplies in those regions will be in peril."

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the "IPCC"), in its Fourth Report, stated that the Himalayan glaciers which feed the Ganges, were at risk of melting by 2035.[The IPCC has now withdrawn that prediction, as the original source admitted that it was speculative and the cited source was not a peer reviewed finding. [In its statement, the IPCC stands by its general findings relating to the Himalayan glaciers being at risk from global warming (with consequent risks to waterflow into the Gangetic basin).
The 2,500km (1,500-mile) river has been badly polluted by industrial chemicals, farm pesticides and other sewage.

Speaking in Delhi, World Bank chief Robert Zoellick said the clean-up would target the entire river network. Plans involve building sewage treatment plants, revamping drains and other measures to improve the water quality. The funding is part of the Indian government's multi-billion dollar initiative to end the discharge of untreated waste into the Ganges by 2020. Environmentalists say the river supports more than 400 million people, and if the unabated pollution is not controlled, it will be the end of communities living along the banks.

Earlier attempts to clean the river have failed, including a plan to make its water drinkable by 1989. But Mr Zoellick said he was confident the plan would work this time. "In the past, [efforts] focused too much on individual aspects such as sewage emissions and not enough on the basin as a whole," he said.
"What really distinguishes this project is to try to look at the whole river network and try to deal with all the aspects."
Correspondents say many of India's polluting factories are located on the banks of the Ganges and their effluent has been largely responsible for the pollution of the river.

The Ganges also flows through some of most crowded cities of India which release their untreated sewage into the river. Also India's finance ministry has said the World Bank would triple its lending to $7bn this year for development, infrastructure and other projects.

Dennison Berwick (born 19 May 1956 in West Yorkshire, England) is a travel writer. Educated at Trinity College, Glenalmond, he emigrated to Canada in 1980. Since then he has walked the entire length of the river Ganges in India ( the 3000 km walk is recounted in A Walk Along the Ganges) and travelled extensively in the Amazon and (journeys that were described in Amazon and Savages: The Life and Killing of the Yanomami). He is also editor of the Canadian Retreat Guide, a guide to more than 140 monasteries, retreat centres etc. in Canada. He spent several weeks helping people in the isolated villages on the west coast of Aceh, Sumatra, following the devastating tsunami in December 2004 and is now working on a novel inspired by those experiences. He currently lives most of the year on his boat "Kuan Yin" (a Tahitiana 32). He is currently working on a new book about Labrador.

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)
Stakeholder involvement: Stakeholders are people (e.g., general public, business interests, government entities, local agencies, citizens, etc.) concerned about a particular water body. They become involved in development through local groups working with Regional Water Quality Control Board staff. Their interests range from pursuing the science to support to figuring out how to implement new management approaches.

Water body assessment: Pollution sources and loads are determined, and their overall effect on the water body is assessed.
Develop allocations: Based on the assessment, pollutant loads are allocated for each source. IT may address a single pollutant or many pollutants. The allocations must be designed so that the water body will attain the applicable water quality standards.

Develop an implementation plan: The plan describes the approach and activities required to ensure that the allocations are met.

Amend the Basin Plan: Before a it is enforceable it must be incorporated into the appropriate Water Quality Control Plan by amending the Basin Plan in accordance with state law.

Article by:
Dr. Amar Nath Giri
Compiled BY different ITNERNET Sources

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