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Saving a Sacred River

By Maryalice Yakutchik • Photography by Shehzad Noorani

The holy waters of the River Ganges flow through the heart of northern India and hold a special place in the national psyche and the Hindu religion. Pollution, however, threatens the sacred river known as the Ganga. Even the use of soap for bathing or washing saris (as these women have done in a  branch of the Ganges near Kolkata) contributes to the problem. These and other practices are being discouraged by National Mission for Clean Ganga. The Bloomberg School’s Center for Communication Programs (CCP) designed the messaging and materials for the campaign, which highlights the causes of pollution and encourages people to take practical steps, such as refraining from throwing trash in the river. These are vital first steps in a country where untreated human sewage, industrial effluents and improper solid waste management are by far the biggest polluters, says Sanjanthi Velu, PhD, CCP’s country director for India.

“While people revere the river Ganga and many who live in the river basin depend on the river for their livelihood, most people are not fully aware about the causes of the pollution of the river or what they could do to help prevent it,” Velu says.

The campaign’s launch earlier this year coincided with Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, a Hindu festival believed to be the largest religious gathering on earth with 120 million flocking to the Ganga to wash away their sins. There, pilgrims were greeted by CCP-designed signs, billboards and other materials promoting the concept that human activities of all kinds are responsible for contaminating these holy waters.