Geographies in Depth

These are the challenges facing India’s most sacred river

Hindu pilgrims take a dip at the confluence of the Ganges River and the Bay of Bengal, an act which they consider to be holy, at Sagar Island, south of Kolkata January 13, 2014. Hindu monks and pilgrims are making their annual trip to Sagar Island for the one-day festival of "Makar Sankranti" on January 14. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri (INDIA - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - GM1EA1D19EW01

The Ganges supports half a billion Indians. Image: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Geographies in Depth?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how India is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

India

The Ganges is a lifeline for the people of India, spiritually and economically. On its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, it supports fishermen, farmers and an abundance of wildlife.

The river and its tributaries touch the lives of roughly 500 million people. But having flowed for millennia, today it is reaching its capacity for human and industrial waste, while simultaneously being drained for agriculture and municipal use.

Here are some of the challenges the river faces.

Image: © WWF / François Xavier PELLETIER

Large schools of freshwater dolphins, known as Ganges River dolphins, were once found along the river. Now they swim in small groups or alone, and have become endangered due to pollution, dams, irrigation projects and the dredging of new shipping channels.

Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

More than 1 billion litres of raw sewage flow into the river every day. In places, the water’s bacteria count reaches 3,000 times the limit declared safe for bathing by the World Health Organization.

Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

Plastic and industrial waste, such as waste water from the leather tanneries that sit on the banks of the Ganges, are another cause of pollution.

Image: Reuters/Jitendra Prakash

But perhaps the most worrying problem facing the river is its increasing lack of water. Water for irrigation is being removed faster than the rainy season can replenish it.

Untreated waste water from leather tanneries flow into the river Ganges in Kanpur, India, May 3, 2018. Picture taken May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi - RC14CAF62560
Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

The Ganges is being throttled by more than 300 dams and diversions, with many more blocking its tributaries, stopping the natural ebb and flow of the river.

Image: Reuters/Jitendra Prakash

Climate change is making the monsoon rains unpredictable, increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events like droughts, and leaving the fishermen of the Ganges with dwindling catches.

Have you read?
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Geographies in DepthClimate ActionNature and Biodiversity
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

EU falling short of digital transformation goals, new report finds

David Elliott

July 19, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Sign in
  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum