Ecology refers to the relationship that living organisms have with each other and with their environment. Ecological management is the conservation and protection of these relationships so that they are harmonious and mutually beneficial. It is about establishing healthy interactions that are beneficial to not only living organisms but also to their local and global environment.
Ecological management within the Ganga River Basin includes everything from the prevention of human behaviors and activities that contribute to natural phenomenon, such as global warming and flooding, to the restoration and conservation of the natural river landscape. It also includes the protection of natural biodiversity, including the vast array of aquatic, plant and animal life dependent on Ganga. The protection of all living organisms thriving and living within the Ganga River Basin is critical to protecting the natural river system, as the two are intricately connected.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (during the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali), while looking at the threat from climate change to human development and the environment, stated, “Only the polar icecaps hold more fresh water than the Himalayan glaciers.” Their report, which was released in November 2007 and entitled “Up in Smoke – Asia and the Pacific,” warned, “If the current trends of climate change continue, by 2030 the size of the glaciers could be reduced by as much as 80 per cent.”
Conservation of Biodiversity
The Ganga and its banks are home to a rich variety of plant and animal life. According to the Zoological Survey of India, the waters of the Ganga support 104 species of Rotifers, or microscopic organisms, 378 species of fish, eleven species of amphibians, twenty-seven varieties of reptiles, eleven kinds of mammals and 177 species of aquatic birds.
The river Ganga and its banks are home to a wide variety of animals. A few well-known species are the Ganges River dolphin, the Royal Bengal tiger of the Sundarbans, freshwater turtles, Gharial crocodiles, a multitude of birds (including the Sarius Crane, egrets, herons and terns, to name a few) and a wide variety of fish. However, because there is a lack of fish in Ganga due to pollution and low-flow, the fishing industry now is also contributing to the depletion of the river’s fish resources. The blind Ganges River dolphins are being accidentally caught in nylon gil-nets with very fine threads that the dolphins cannot sense through echo-location. The very water they swim in is decreasing as more is being siphoned off to fields, canals and dams, separating and decreasing the dolphin populations.
In addition, there is great harm being done to the actual physical land itself in the Ganga basin. Massive deforestation has happened along the entire stretch of the Ganga and her tributaries. The entire upper plains of the Gangetic basin, including the area between the Ganga and the Yamuna River, used to be covered with tropical moist deciduous forest made up of sal trees and other species. Unfortunately, now most of this forest has been cut down and heavily cultivated.1 Up even further, at the source of the Ganga at Gaumukh, what was once land covered in Birch trees and Juniper bushes among other plants has now been converted into what has been referred to as “a cold desert.” Here, an increasing local populace has had no alternative choice for energy than to cut down these trees and plants to use them as firewood, and in a matter of a few decades these forests have been almost completely denuded.2 This deforestation is contributing to the melting of the Gangotri glacier, as the trees that once grew along the sidewalls that contain the glacier can no longer hold the melted water in the soil and contribute the water back into the growth of the glacier. Now that the trees are gone, the water flows away, causing the glacier to shrink.3
Another major ecological problem facing Ganga is the exploitation of her natural resources. For example, an illegal sand and rock mining industry has continued unabated for nearly the last decade, removing ton after ton of Ganga’s river bed and banks, causing vast detrimental effects on the ecology and environment of Ganga including more flooding of fields and forest areas along her banks, further bank erosion and deforestation. It has been seen from satellite images that the last eight years of mining in Ganga have even actually affected and shifted the river channel.4
As nearly 450 million people along with hundreds of millions of plants and animals live along and within Ganga and her surrounding environment, the need for ecological conservation and protection is dire. We must work to meet the needs of energy, food and water for all those who live and rely upon Ganga without destroying the sources themselves.
- Promoting and raising awareness of ways to live “green”, in harmony with our ecosystem
- Restoring and protecting the diverse flora and fauna that flourish along and within the Ganga River Basin
- Planting thick vegetation along the river banks and trees to rejuvenate the environment, help purify the waters, and mitigate erosion, as well as retain water in the soil
- Removing wandering cows from the roads and providing them with care and shelter
- Restoring the free-flow of Ganga by removing unnecessary obstructions of the river
- Renovating and beautifying the Char Dham and other pilgrimage areas, restoring the environment to an eco-friendly “hut culture” instead of a “hotel culture”
- Tapping India’s enormous capacity to produce solar power, providing an alternative to the practice of cutting down trees, obstructing rivers, and excavating mountains for energy
- Introducing new technologies, such as “green” crematoriums, in cities and towns along Ganga, thus drastically cutting down the amount of trees for these rituals
- Creating effective solid waste and wastewater management systems, so that the pollution, which is killing the lifeforms that live in and around Ganga, no longer enters the river
1 “Ganges.” Wikipedia. Click here to read this article.
2 “Gangotri Conservation.” Save Gangotri. 2005. Click here to watch this video.
3 Marwah, G. “Ganges – A River of No Return?” The South Asian. August 2004. Click here to read this article.
4 “Exposing the illegal mining in Haridwar.” NDTV. 16 June 2011. Click here to watch this video.