Two Indian rivers — Ganges and Indus — are among the world's top 10 rivers at risk threatening livelihoods of people along its banks in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, a new global study by World Widlife Fund (WWF) said on Tuesday.
The rivers may not reach the oceans because of excessive extraction of water, fast receding rate of feeding glaciers and excessive pollution by human interference, the report released by WWF-India Secretary-general Ravi Singh said. He added that implications of the report were serious and immediate steps should be taken to combat the "fresh water crisis" or else "risks will multiply".
Nearly 30 to 40 per cent water from the Ganges comes from glaciers, which were melting at a faster pace due of global warming. Gangotri, the feeding glacier is receding at nearly 21 metres per year, the report said.
Water withdrawal poses a serious threat to the Ganges with roughly 60 per cent of the flow being diverted to largescale irrigation resulting in reduction in surface water resources, increasing dependence on ground water, loss of water based livelihoods. Pollution from industry and religious activities have taken their toll on the quality of water impacting agriculture, livestock and human health.
The loss is not only to humans. Endemic species of Ganges like hilsa, pangash, bacha, ghari, soal, koi , boal have become endangered because of habitat degradation, industrial and agricultural pollution and siltation.
Nearly 109 fishes and other aquatic and amphibian species in the rivers face prospect of habitat destruction. The endangered river dolphin faces an annual mortality rate of 10 per cent from pollution-related causes. Before the Ganga flows into the Sunderban delta, nearly 90 per cent of the water is extracted before causing sea level rise leading to incursion of saline water into the river reducing fresh water availability.
"The sea level rise has resulted in our island (Sagar) losing 70 square km of land since 1990 and increased salinity forcing us to change crop pattern and migration," Anil Kumar Khanar, a government schoolteacher in Sunderbans, said.
For Indus, climate change is the bigger threat than human interference as a huge portion (70-80 per cent) of the river is glacier-fed. Faster melting of Himalayan glaciers and huge extraction of water for agriculture would drastically reduce the volume of water and reduce the catchment area, the report said. More than India, the report blames the Pakistani government for the state of the river.
In 1990, the Pakistani provinces signed a water accord to ensure 10 million acre feet of water for the basin but the promise remained on paper.
Moreover, the government provides huge water subsidies for agriculture development and proposes construction of six large dams on the river, further aggravating the threat. The WWF has called on the developed countries to help India and Pakistan reduce climate change impact on the rivers.