Ganges Rising: Salinization Threatens Holy River

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The Ganges is taking a beating. Considered one of India’s holiest rivers, as of late its health has been threatened by chemical pollution, an overload of raw sewage and the possibility that its Himalayan source, the Gangotri glacier, will dry up. Now, climate experts are warning that rising sea levels are causing salt water to flow into the Ganges, harming riverine ecosystems and transforming farmlands into unproductive soil.

"This phenomenon is called extension of salt wedge," said Pranabes Sanyal, representative of the National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA) for eastern India."It will salinate the groundwater of Kolkata and turn agricultural lands barren in adjoining rural belts."

The sea is rising around 3.14 mm annually in some parts of the Bay of Bengal, compared to the global average of 2 mm – in effect, jeopardizing the low-lying regions of eastern India with the spectre of more severe natural disasters, famine and disease.

The announcement came after scientists at Kolkata’s Jadavpur University found mangroves growing along the riverbanks of Kolkata. As plants that typically grow in brackish, saline coastal areas, their appearance in this area is worrying.

"We fear what happened 6,500 years ago might recur and we have already spotted more saline water fish in the river," Sanyal said, referring to the fact that the Bay of Bengal’s waters once extended up to the northern fringe of Kolkata, a city of 12 million people.