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Are India’s rivers dying a slow death

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Since ancient times, India is known for being the land of rivers, a land whose residents are hugely dependent upon rivers for survival, a piece of land which is surrounded by water on the east, west and south. However, in the present time, lack of awareness, indifference and negligence among humans is a major factor negatively impacting our rivers and other waterbodies.
While World Rivers Day is observed across the globe this week with the aim of raising awareness about rivers and encouraging their conservation, The CSR Journal takes a look into the problems Indian rivers are facing in the present day.

Indian rivers heating up due to climate change

Climate change badly impacts rivers. This leads to floods and droughts in the rivers and the situation might get worse in the coming 25-50 years, predict experts. As a result of climate change, rivers are flooding during monsoon while drought persists for the rest of the year.
Climate change is causing a gradual rise in temperature among the rivers of India, claims a recent study based on the Indian rivers of Ganga, Narmada, Cauvery, Sabarmati, Tungabhadra, Musi and Godavari. This apart from other negative impacts on the river also affects the aquatic organisms residing inside the water, because they survive mostly on dissolved oxygen. But if the water is polluted or warm, then oxygen becomes less soluble.
Rivers drying up due to excessive heat also impacts our day to day life, which is evident from the water shortage which several Indian cities currently experience.

Dumping garbage into rivers

India is a highly populated country but there is a serious lack of awareness regarding waste disposal among many people even in the present day despite the government trying its best to spread the word. Throwing garbage in rivers, lakes, ponds, sea or any other water body is a common problem even in the present time.
It is believed, Ganga cleanses our inner dirt and frees us from our sins but the amount of dirt that goes into the river everyday is incredible. Since time immemorial, Ganga is worshipped by several Indian communities. However, that does not stop people from throwing flowers, garlands, plastic waste, clothes, paper and every possible kind of waste into any river closer to their home.
Not only Ganga, rivers in different parts of India have been a favourite dumping ground of garbage for common people due to lack of awareness, ignorance and negligence among parts of our population.
While steps are being taken both by the government and certain NGOs to spread awareness about waste disposal and save our rivers, it will take time.

Plastic pollution

The amount of plastic waste going into every Indian river, particularly in Ganga every day, is a big reason to worry, says experts. Ganga, which is considered as sacred and holy, unfortunately has made its way to the list of top five most polluted cities in the world especially due to the amount of waste, especially plastic waste that goes into it on a daily basis.
Yamuna also features in the list of top 10 most polluted rivers in the world. Microplastics or extremely small pieces of plastic debris resulting from the disposal and breakdown of plastic, especially industrial waste, remain in the water for years harming aquatic life and humans.
We consume microplastics hidden in river water when the latter is used for drinking or irrigation, which causes neurotoxicity and enhances the risk of cancer in the human body.

Extracting sand from the river bed

Extraction of sand and gravel from river beds (often illegally) and selling it for construction purpose is a common practice in several parts of the country. Parts of Ganga, Yamuna and several other Indian rivers are victims of this practice.
Sand mining is a practice which threatens the biodiversity of a river system. This also causes reduction in the ground water level, which in turn has adverse effects on the health of the people living along the banks.

Isha Foundation Rally for Rivers campaign

In 2017, Sadhguru launched ‘Rally for Rivers’ to revitalize India’s rapidly depleting rivers. The ecological movement has gained the support of millions of people.
Talking about how Indian rivers are dying, the Isha Foundation Rally for Rivers website mentions, “India’s rivers are undergoing a drastic change. Due to the pressures of population and development, our perennial rivers are becoming seasonal. Many of the smaller rivers have already vanished. Flood as well as drought are becoming increasingly frequent, as rivers turn unruly during the monsoon, and vanish once the rainy season is over.”
“In every state, perennial rivers are either becoming seasonal or totally going dry. In Kerala – the Bharatpuzha, in Karnataka – the Kabini, in Tamil Nadu – the Kaveri, Palar and Vaigai, in Odisha – the Musal, in Madhya Pradesh – the Kshipra. Many smaller rivers have already vanished,” it further reads.

We can still act to save our rivers

It is never too late if we start acting now. Activities avoiding throwing garbage into river and planting trees on their banks are the basic things we can begin with. These can help revive and replenish rivers in a number of ways.
Scientific research says trees along the sides of rivers help in maintaining their perenniality, improve the quality of water and soil, protect biodiversity of the river, reduce the frequency of flood and drought, replenish groundwater, prevent soil erosion and help the river deal with the effects of climate change.