Haze and smoke over Ganges basin in India

Environment - current issues: deforestation; soil erosion; overgrazing; desertification; air pollution from industrial effluents and vehicle emissions; water pollution from raw sewage and runoff of agricultural pesticides; tap water is not potable throughout the country; huge and growing population is overstraining natural resources. For the environment of India to be sustainable in the long run, it should be broad-based and inclusive of a large part of the region's labor force. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Environment - international agreements: party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling.

India is vulnerable to various natural hazards, particularly cyclones and annual monsoon floods, and various combinations of poverty, population growth, increasing individual consumption, industrialization, infrastructural development, poor agricultural practices, and resource maldistribution have led to substantial human transformation of India’s natural environment. An estimated 60 percent of cultivated land suffers from soil erosion, waterlogging, and salinity. It is also estimated that between 4.7 and 12 billion tons of topsoil are lost annually from soil erosion. From 1947 to 2002, average annual per capita water availability declined by almost 70 percent to 1,822 cubic meters, and overexploitation of groundwater is problematic in the states of Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh. Forest area covers 19.4 percent of India’s geographic area (63.7 million hectares). Nearly half of the country’s forest cover is found in the state of Madhya Pradesh (20.7 percent) and the seven states of the northeast (25.7 percent); the latter is experiencing net forest loss. Forest cover is declining because of harvesting for fuel wood and the expansion of agricultural land. [Source: Library of Congress, 2004*]

These trends, combined with increasing industrial and motor vehicle pollution output, have led to atmospheric temperature increases, shifting precipitation patterns, and declining intervals of drought recurrence in many areas. The Indian Agricultural Research Institute has estimated that a 3̊ C rise in temperature will result in a 15 to 20 percent loss in annual wheat yields. These are substantial problems for a nation with such a large population depending on the productivity of primary resources and whose economic growth relies heavily on industrial growth. *

Civil conflicts involving natural resources—most notably forests and arable land—have occurred in eastern and northeastern states. By contrast, water resources have not been linked to either domestic or international violent conflict as was previously anticipated by some observers. Possible exceptions include some communal violence related to distribution of water from the Kaveri River and political tensions surrounding actual and potential population displacements by dam projects, particularly on the Narmada River. *

Salinization affects 11 percent of the irrigated land in India. An estimated 7 million acres of land has been damaged by salt. Saltwater intrusion is a problem in some coastal areas. Mangroves have been cut down and underground water has been tapped out.

According to a survey of expatriates living in Asia, India, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Hong Kong were regarded as the dirties countries in Asia while Singapore, Japan and Malaysia were regarded as the cleanest. Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan were in the middle.

Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot

The eight hottest biological "hot spots" are: 1) the Caribbean; 2) Western Ghats and Sri Lanka; 3) Sunderland (Sumatra, Malaysia, Borneo and Java); 4) the Philippines; 5) Brazil's Atlantic Coast; 6) Coastal forest of Kenya and Tanzania; 7) Madagascar; 8) Indo-Burma.

Encompassing more than 2 million square kilometers of tropical Asia, Indo-Burma is still revealing its biological treasures. Six large mammal species have been discovered in the last 12 years: the large-antlered muntjac, the Annamite muntjac, the grey-shanked douc, the Annamite striped rabbit, the leaf deer, and the saola. This hotspot also holds remarkable endemism in freshwater turtle species, most of which are threatened with extinction, due to over-harvesting and extensive habitat loss. Bird life in Indo-Burma is also incredibly diverse, holding almost 1,300 different bird species, including the threatened white-eared night-heron, the grey-crowned crocias, and the orange-necked partridge. [Source: Conservation International **]

VITAL SIGNS: Hotspot Original Extent (square kilometers): 2,373,057; Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (square kilometers): 118,653; Endemic Plant Species: 7,000; Endemic Threatened Birds: 18; Endemic Threatened Mammals: 25; Endemic Threatened Amphibians: 35; Extinct Species: 1; Human Population Density (people/square kilometers): 134; Area Protected (square kilometers): 235,758; Area Protected (square kilometers) in Categories I-IV: 132,283. **

The Indo-Burma hotspot encompasses 2,373,000 square kilometers of tropical Asia east of the Ganges-Brahmaputra lowlands. Formerly including the Himalaya chain and the associated foothills in Nepal, Bhutan and India, the Indo-Burma hotspot has now been more narrowly redefined as the Indo-Chinese subregion. The hotspot contains the Lower Mekong catchment. It begins in eastern Bangladesh and then extends across north-eastern India, south of the Bramaputra River, to encompass nearly all of Myanmar, part of southern and western Yunnan Province in China, all of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cambodia and Vietnam, the vast majority of Thailand and a small part of Peninsular Malaysia. In addition, the hotspot covers the coastal lowlands of southern China (in southern Guangxi and Guangdong), as well as several offshore islands, such as Hainan Island (of China) in the South China Sea and the Andaman Islands (of India) in the Andaman Sea. The hotspot containes the Lower Mekong catchment. **

Much of Indo-Burma is characterized by distinct seasonal weather patterns. During the northern winter months, dry, cool winds blow from the stable continental Asian high-pressure system, resulting in a dry period under clear skies across much of the south, center, and west of the hotspot (the dry, northeast monsoon). As the continental system weakens in spring, the wind direction reverses and air masses forming the southwest monsoon pick up moisture from the seas to the southwest and bring abundant rains as they rise over the hills and mountains. **

The transition to the Sundaland Hotspot in the south occurs on the Thai-Malay Peninsula, the boundary between the two hotspots is represented by the Kangar-Pattani Line, which cuts across the Thailand-Malaysia border, though some analyses indicate that the phytogeographical and zoogeographical transition between the Sundaland and Indo-Burma biotas may lie just to the north of the Isthmus of Kra, associated with a gradual change from wet seasonal evergreen dipterocarp rainforest to mixed moist deciduous forest. **

A wide diversity of ecosystems is represented in this hotspot, including mixed wet evergreen, dry evergreen, deciduous, and montane forests. There are also patches of shrublands and woodlands on karst limestone outcrops and, in some coastal areas, scattered heath forests. In addition, a wide variety of distinctive, localized vegetation formations occur in Indo-Burma, including lowland floodplain swamps, mangroves, and seasonally inundated grasslands. **

Himalaya Biodiversity Hotspot

The Himalaya Hotspot is home to the world's highest mountains, including Mt. Everest. The mountains rise abruptly, resulting in a diversity of ecosystems that range from alluvial grasslands and subtropical broadleaf forests to alpine meadows above the tree line. Vascular plants have even been recorded at more than 6,000 meters. The hotspot is home to important populations of numerous large birds and mammals, including vultures, tigers, elephants, rhinos and wild water buffalo. [Source:Conservation International **]

VITAL SIGNS: Hotspot Original Extent (km²): 741,706; Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (km²): 185,427; Endemic Plant Species: 3,160; Endemic Threatened Birds: 8; Endemic Threatened Mammals: 4; Endemic Threatened Amphibians: 4; Extinct Species: 0; Human Population Density (people/km²): 123; Area Protected (km²): 112,578; Area Protected (km²) in Categories I-IV: 77,739. **

Stretching in an arc over 3,000 kilometers of northern Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and the northwestern and northeastern states of India, the Himalaya hotspot includes all of the world's mountain peaks higher than 8,000 meters. This includes the world’s highest mountain, Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) as well as several of the world’s deepest river gorges. **

This immense mountain range, which covers nearly 750,000 km², has been divided into two regions: the Eastern Himalaya, which covers parts of Nepal, Bhutan, the northeast Indian states of West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh, southeast Tibet (Autonomous Region of China), and northern Myanmar; and the Western Himalaya, covering the Kumaon-Garhwal, northwest Kashmir, and northern Pakistan. While these divisions are largely artificial, the deep defile carved by the antecedent Kali Gandaki River between the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountains has been an effective dispersal barrier to many species. **

The abrupt rise of the Himalayan Mountains from less than 500 meters to more than 8,000 meters results in a diversity of ecosystems that range, in only a couple of hundred kilometers, from alluvial grasslands (among the tallest in the world) and subtropical broadleaf forests along the foothills to temperate broadleaf forests in the mid hills, mixed conifer and conifer forests in the higher hills, and alpine meadows above the treeline. **

Western Ghats and Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspot

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Malaria spraying in Mumbai
Faced with tremendous population pressure, the forests of the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka have been dramatically impacted by the demands for timber and agricultural land. Remaining forests of the Western Ghats are heavily fragmented; in Sri Lanka, only 1.5 percent of the original forest remains. Population levels are also applying increased stress on the fringes of protected areas where many farms, loggers, and poachers use the resources illegally. Due in part to the varying effect of the yearly monsoons and the high mountain regions, this hotspot is home to a rich endemic assemblage of plants, reptiles, and amphibians. Sir Lanka alone may be home to as many as 140 endemic species of amphibians. The region also houses important populations of Asian elephants, Indian tigers, and the Endangered lion-tailed macaque. Freshwater fish endemism is extremely high as well, with over 140 native species. [Source:Conservation International **]

VITAL SIGNS; Hotspot Original Extent (km²): 189,611; Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (km²): 43,611; Endemic Plant Species: 3,049; Endemic Threatened Birds: 10; Endemic Threatened Mammals: 14; Endemic Threatened Amphibians: 87; Extinct Species: 20; Human Population Density (people/km²): 261; Area Protected (km²): 26,130; Area Protected (km²) in Categories I-IV: 21,259. **

The Western Ghats of southwestern India and the highlands of southwestern Sri Lanka, separated by 400 kilometers, are strikingly similar in their geology, climate and evolutionary history. The Western Ghats, known locally as the Sahyadri Hills, are formed by the Malabar Plains and the chain of mountains running parallel to India's western coast, about 30 to 50 kilometers inland. They cover an area of about 160,000 km² and stretch for 1,600 kilometers from the country's southern tip to Gujarat in the north, interrupted only by the 30 kilometers Palghat Gap. **

Sri Lanka is a continental island separated from southern India by the 20-meter-deep Palk Strait. The island, some 67,654 km² in size, has been repeatedly connected with India between successive interglacials, most recently until about 7,000 years ago by a land bridge up to about 140 kilometers wide. **

The Western Ghats mediates the rainfall regime of peninsular India by intercepting the southwestern monsoon winds. The western slopes of the mountains experience heavy annual rainfall (with 80 percent of it falling during the southwest monsoon from June to September), while the eastern slopes are drier; rainfall also decreases from south to north. Dozens of rivers originate in these mountains, including the peninsula’s three major eastward-flowing rivers. Thus, they are important sources of drinking water, irrigation, and power. The wide variation of rainfall patterns in the Western Ghats, coupled with the region’s complex geography, produces a great variety of vegetation types. These include scrub forests in the low-lying rainshadow areas and the plains, deciduous and tropical rainforests up to about 1,500 meters, and a unique mosaic of montane forests and rolling grasslands above 1,500 meters. **

Precipitation across Sri Lanka is dependent on monsoonal winds, resulting in much of the island experiencing relatively low rainfall (less than 2,000 millimeters per year), except for the south-western "wet zone" quarter, where precipitation ranges to as much as 5,000 millimeters per year. While dry evergreen forests occupy almost the entirety of the "dry zone," dipterocarp-dominated rainforests dominate the lowlands of the wet zone, and some 220 km² of tropical montane cloud forest still persist in the central hills, which rise to a maximum altitude of 2,524 meters. **

Global Warming

India emits higher levels of greenhouse gases than any other developing country with the exception of China. But India produces only 4.2 percent of the world's emission compared to 22 by the United States. The avergae American produced 20 times as much carbon dioxide as te average Indian. Greenhouse gas emissions are growing very rapidly. Emissions increased by 56 percent between 1992 and 2002. Carbon dioxide emissions from consumption of energy: 1.726 billion Mt (2011 est.)

Global warming is blamed for causing droughts, floods and water shortages. It could disrupt the monsoons and cause vital rains to disappear from some places. The Mahanadi, Narmada, Tapti, Cauvery, Krishna, Godavari and Ganges River Deltas are threatened by rising sea levels caused by global warming. The Ganges Delta and the cities of Mumbai, Madras and Calcutta are particularly vulnerable to sea level rises. India recorded record temperatures, rainfall and tornados in 2003. Some blamed global warming. India experienced is worst heat wave in 50 years in May 1998. More than 2,500 people were killed. Global warming is believed to have been involved.

Greenhouse emissions are increasing, due mainly to increase in coal use to fuel India’s industrial and economic boom. Energy consumption is on the rise. There are worries about the effect of this on global warming and air pollution. The World Bank puts much of the blame on inefficient investments in energy, in power generation.”

A 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that India will suffer worse consequence from global warming than other parts of world. By some estimates the northern part of the country might experience temperature increased of 5 and 6 degrees C, patterns of rainfall might radically shift, and glaciers in the Himalayas might melt, depriving much the country of water for irrigation and other uses.

India is exempt from the Kyoto Treaty because it is considered a developing country.

Melting Glaciers and Global Warming

Global warming is being blamed for melting glaciers. The Gangotri Glacier in India is retreating at a rate of 30 meters per year.
Jeremy Page wrote in The Times, “V. K. Raina, a former head of the Geological Survey of India, issued a report in November 2009 arguing that Himalayan glaciers formed four million years ago and have been melting ever since. “Himalayan glaciers, although shrinking in volume and constantly showing a retreating front, have not in any way exhibited, especially in recent years, an abnormal annual retreat,” it said. [Source: Jeremy Page, The Times, December 5, 2009]

Indian experts almost unanimously panned the report, with Dr R. K. Pachauri, who heads both TERI and IPCC, denouncing it as “schoolboy science”. But Jairam Ramesh, India’s Environment Minister, effectively endorsed it by writing the foreword, holding a press conference to launch it, and placing it on his ministry’s website. Shyam Saran, India’s top climate change negotiator, also backed it.

Critics suspect India’s Government is playing down the issue to ease Western pressure on it at Copenhagen, or to suppress opposition to plans to develop regions near some glaciers. The debate is likely to continue at least until TERI’s project starts to produce results. And that, says Dr Tayal, is what motivates him to spend an average six months of every year in the mountains. “People can’t understand it until they have been here to see it for themselves,” he said.

See Global Warming, Glaciers factsanddetails.com , factsanddetails.com

Ozone Depletion

The use of ozone-layer-depleting chemicals in India and China and to a lesser extent in Indonesia threatens to cancel out progress made in reducing the use of these chemicals in the developed world.

Companies in India continued to produce ozone-damaging CFC-12 gas until fairly recently, taking a advantage of a clause on the Montreal Protocol that allows developing nation to produce the gas until the year 2010. Some of the gas has been smuggled into the United States and used to replenish leaky air conditioners at half the price of new coolants.

Thousands of tons of CFCs is smuggled into India. Much of it comes from Nepal and Bangladesh, where there are less restrictions. The CFCs cost one third less than non-ozone-depleting alternatives. Most of the users are small businesses and factories.

Air Pollution in India

Air Pollution includes particles of soot, organic hazardous material, heavy metals, acid aerosols and dust. The smaller particles are more dangerous because they are more easily inhaled. Most of it comes from factories and vehicles and from million of fires made with wood, cow dung and low-quality coal.

Many Indian cities are covered in a sooty haze caused by pollution from vehicles, cooking fires and factories. Scooters and auto-rickshaws produce an alarming amount of pollution for their size. Cow dung fires are common even in the cities and they leave behind a bluish fog. Coal is major source of air pollution. In some places exposed coal seams have been ignited and burn for years. In other places, coal is stolen by squatters and burned on the side of the road to ride it of impurities. Factories use lots of it.

India has more than two dozen cities of more than 1 million people. None meets World Health Organization pollution standards. Indoor pollution is a problem. Many people light homes with government-subsidized kerosene and cook with fires. Smoke and other pollutants cause asthma and other ailments. Indoor smoke from poorly vented fires is blamed for 600,000 premature deaths annually in India, mostly women and children.

Air Pollution Exported by India

Large amounts of airborne particulate matter has drifted from the Indian subcontinent into the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. In large swaths of the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, the haze is so thick that 35 percent to 45 percent of the direct sunlight is intercepted. Air pollution from Bombay produces massive brown clouds that blows as far south as the Maldives and extends eastward into China. There are worries the pollution could effect climate and rainfall patterns.

Studies have show that worst air pollution is caused by the burning of wood, agricultural waste and animal dung, primarily for cooking fires. The large amounts of soot produced by these fires has been linked to global warming. The level of black carbon (soot) over the Indian Ocean is 10 times higher than that of so-called greenhouse gases. The soot can cause the greenhouse effect by adsorbing sunlight and heating up the atmosphere. One study found that 42 percent of the soot in the air originates from cooking fires, 22 percent from the burning of fossil fuels and 13 percent from forest fires and slash and burn agriculture.

India Cities: Most Polluted in the World, Much Worse than Chinese Cities

New Delhi’s air is the most polluted in the world, according to a World Health Organization report that quantifies pollution levels Gardiner Harris wrote in the New York Times, “The findings show that the cities ranking second through fourth are also in India, in the central Hindi belt, confirming findings by experts confounded by the lack of attention to the city’s problem. For years, experts have wondered why so much international attention has focused on air pollution in Beijing when some say conditions are as bad or even worse in South Asia. “I am shocked at the extent of the problem they found in India,” said Dr. Sundeep Salvi, the director of the Chest Research Foundation in Pune, India. “This is incredibly bad, and there is a complete lack of awareness about it both amongst policy makers and the common man.” [Source: Gardiner Harris, New York Times, May 8, 2014]

On one day in May 2014 “in New Delhi, air pollution monitors measured levels of PM 2.5 — the small particles considered among the most dangerous for lung health — exceeding 350 micrograms per cubic meter of air. That was one of the highest levels recorded in Asia, and twice as high as Beijing’s peak for the morning. PM 2.5 refers to particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which is believed to pose the greatest health risk because it penetrates deeply into lungs. In Beijing, a pollution level as high as Delhi’s would most likely have caused widespread concern. But in Delhi, almost no one seemed to notice. Few people here wear the filter masks that have been appearing on the streets of Beijing, and even among the wealthy, few own air purifiers, which are used widely in East Asia, because few are even aware of the problem.

“Air pollution is rarely mentioned by leading politicians. At a recent embassy party here, several people expressed astonishment that New Delhi’s air was considered dangerous. One of the guests, a marathon runner who jogs through Delhi’s streets daily, said she had never noticed any problem with the air. The W.H.O. report, which examined pollution levels in nearly 1,600 cities in 91 countries for the years 2008 to 2013, found that the annual mean for PM 2.5 concentrations in Delhi was 153 micrograms per cubic meter. The cities of Patna, Gwalior and Raipur followed Delhi for the worst air pollution readings. Delhi’s reading was almost three times that of Beijing, whose annual mean in the report was 59.

“Dr. Carlos Dora, the coordinator of health and environment at the W.H.O., said: “The levels of air quality which we see in India, Pakistan, Iran and China are very worrying. Air pollution has a huge impact on human health.” The growing use of coal-fired power plants, cars and dung fuel for cooking is one of the principal causes of worsening air pollution, the organization said. China’s extensive pollution problems have grown out of efforts by the country’s leaders to develop manufacturing and industrial capacity no matter the cost. But India has little to show for its toxic air. The country’s economy is sputtering, its small manufacturing sector has been shrinking, and efforts to build roads and open coal and metal mines have foundered on corruption and environmental concerns. Pakistan, which had three cities among the world’s 10 most polluted, has even less to show for its pollution levels, as economic growth there has been well below India’s for decades.

“Dr. Anurag Agrawal, a pulmonary physician and researcher based in New Delhi, said he had seen a patient whose asthma had become so bad in recent years that he must take high doses of steroids to keep it under control. But when he leaves India, his symptoms disappear. “So I told him that he should seriously consider changing the place he lived,” Dr. Agrawal said. “And he said he would not even consider moving.”

The problem has existed for some time. Levels of particles of smoke in Asian cities (micrograms per cubic meter from 1987 to 1990): Calcutta (400); Beijing (380); Jakarta (280); Hong Kong (120); Bangkok (100); Manila (95); Tokyo (50). Compared to New York (60). Air Pollution levels in Indian cities (particle matter in micrograms): 1) Rajokot (525); 2) Dehra Dun (495); 3) Surat (475); 4) Lucknow (475); 6) Kanpur (465); 7) New Delhi (510); 8) Calcutta (380); 9) Ahmadabad (300); 10) Banglore (280); 11) Madras (125); 12) Hyderabad (125); 13) Jaipur (125).

Efforts to Reduce Air Pollution

Laws designed to lower air pollution went into effect in April 2005 that required oil refiners to sell diesel and gasoline with fewer pollutants such as sulfur and benzene. Maruti Udyog invested $5.7 to build engines that run on the new fuels. In Lucknow, authorities have banned eight-passenger motorcycle taxis on the busiest cities, and replaced some with battery-powered taxis. Delhi and other places have enacted tough green laws, in line with those in Europe, intended to reduce air pollution. Car dealers complain the laws have negatively affect car sales.

Pollution in the Ganges

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River pollution in India
Some 345 million gallons of raw sewage and 70 million gallons of industrial waste flows into the Ganges everyday. Dead goats, monkeys and occasion dead beggars can be seen floating in it. Diseases that have been caught bathing in the river include hepatitis amoebic dysentery, jaundice and cholera. It has been said that there are so many toxins in the Ganges that even bacteria won’t grow in it. Even so, Indians drink water from the river, bathe in it and irrigate their crops with it. In Varanasi people who bathe in the Ganges say it is a question mind over matter. Hindus believe the Ganges can not be contaminated. Hindus don't like the term "polluted" attached to the Ganges. Environmentalists now favor milder language to infer that the sacred river is "suffering."

"I will not stop my taking my daily bath in the Ganges," one man told journalist Geoffrey Ward of Smithsonian magazine, "but the struggle inside me every morning is terrible, inexpressible." The centuries-old sewer in Varanasi is overtaxed and the water treatment facility doesn't work, partly because the local power stations can't supply it with enough electricity. Raw sewage plummets into the river from half a dozen places at a rate of 3,500 gallons a minute. On the northern edge of the city, near where the Aryans built their first camp, the water is so foul that bubbles from chemical reactions form. The smell of the toxic brew is so horrible that even seasoned boatmen hold their nose as they paddle. [Source: Geoffrey Ward, Smithsonian magazine, September 1985]

Much of the pollution in the Ganges if from untreated sewage. Hindus refuse to believe that the river is polluted and scoff at accusations that this is the case. Environmentalists try to get Hindus to take an interest in the fate of the river by asking them first if the believe the Ganges is their mother. When they say yes the environmentalist ask: "Would you show such disrespect to your mother? Pour filth over her?" When they say No, they gain more converts. [Source: Santha Rama Rau, National Geographic February 1986]

Cleaning Up the Ganges

Efforts to clean up the Ganges have included introducing electric crematories, more efficient than wooden pyres; and releasing turtles that eat decaying matter into the river. Most of the turtles were killed by poachers for their meat. Sadhus have demonstrated in Allahabad demanding that the Ganges be cleaned up.

"In my grandfather time," a Varanasi environmental activist told Ward, "not even soap was allowed near the river; no one was permitted to wear shoes. The maharajahs paid for keeping up the ghats, and the “pandas” and boatmen policed the waterfront. Anyone who dared dirty the riverbank would have been lynched. Now everyone is exercising his democratic right to ruin the city...Benares was once a quiet center of religion and contemplation. It has become a city of shopkeepers and ruffians." [Source: Geoffrey Ward, Smithsonian magazine, September 1985]

In an attempt to save the sacred river a citizen movement called Swatcha Ganges (Cleanse the Ganges) was hatched. The slogan for the group is: "The Ganges is our Mother...If the Ganges is your Mother how can you allow this harsh treatment to be meted out to her?" To remove the garbage boys use mesh-boxes to scrape up green scum and dancers and singers are sent into bazaars to raise awareness. The World Bank has provided the Varanasi government with millions of dollars to build seven modern sewage treatment plants and electric crematoriums. [Source: Geoffrey Ward, Smithsonian magazine, September 1985]

Toxic Waste and Chemicals

Many developed countries such as the United States, Britain and Germany send waste products such as plastic bottles, car batteries, lead, cadmium and even radioactive waste to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh even though these countries have toxic waste import bans.

DDT is still made and used in India in part because it is effective in controlling mosquitos that carry the malaria parasite. [Source: World Wildlife Fund]

The area around Jharkhand in Bihar is an important uranium mining and processing center. Many local people work dangerously close to the uranium and an alarming number of birth defects and serious genetic diseases have been the result. One boy was born with no left eye and a partially flattened nose. He can't walk or sit upright. Nor can he speak or digest solids. In one village of 250 families, there are 13 children with congenital illnesses or deformities.

Arsenic poisoning is a problem in West Bengal.

Deforestation in India

Nearly half of India’s forest cover is found in the state of Madhya Pradesh (20.7 percent) and the seven states of the northeast (25.7 percent); the latter is experiencing net forest loss. Forest cover is declining because of harvesting for fuel wood and the expansion of agricultural land. Between 1900 and today half of India's forests have vanished, most was converted into farms, the rest mostly to pastures. Forests covered 40 percent of India in 1900. Now the figure is 19 percent of which only 3 percent reserved for wildlife.

According to satellite data India is losing more than 3 million acres of forest, an area a little larger than Connecticut, every year. India’s billion plus people and billion plus head of domestic livestock have been blamed. Suburban sprawl is increasing deforestation rates. Deforestation in the northeast has led to declining rainfalls and increased rates of erosion. After a forest has been cleared for firewood the sun burns off the ground cover previously protected by the shade of trees and monsoon rains carry away the top soil. Without the top soil, the rains quickly runs of into rivers and streams. Without trees the water table drops. Some 95 percent of India's forest belong to the state. Many forests are claimed for the construction of industrial complexes and dams because they are built where streams and rivers are and they are in the forests. Over 18 square-miles of prime grazing land in Corbett National Park was submerged by a dam, causing the animals to concentrate in other parts of the park, over grazing the land. To meet the demand for wood large tracts of forest have been cleared to make way for plantations of fast growing trees. Teak, eucalyptus and pine are grown. Eucalyptus is prized by foresters because it grows exceptionally fast, but avoided by wildlife because it doesn't bear any fruit or berries. [Source: John Putman, National Geographic September 1976]

The government lets villages turn once vibrant forest into desert because they have no other alternative to offer the villagers. Patches of forest along western Ghats and on Andaman islands have been disrupted by logging, forest farmers and landless poor. In the last half century. timber company and farmers have felled more than two thirds of the hill forests in the Himachel Pradesh. In Madhya Pradesh, the World Bank funded a program for plantations of fast-growing trees established in areas cleared of tropical rain forests. On the coasts poor farmers are clearing forests and digging holes for shrimp farms.

Until recently, the forests in the rainy areas of northeastern India were inaccessible and tribal people considered the forest sacred and off limits. The forest preserved steams and water tables and cooled the air. But in recent years improved roads have meant once off limits areas are accessible. Forest have been encroached upon by outsiders and the forest have been cut down. The top soil has been washed away by the heavy rains at an alarming rate. The conversion of many people to Christianity has meant the belief in the sacredness of the forest has been lost. New arrivals and long time residence

Garbage and Recycling in India

Cities can't collect all the trash produced. Corrupt contractors and paralytic unions have meant that trash is rarely collected even in good neighborhoods. In the past it has been said the accumulation of garbage is on the verge of being a state wide emergency.

In some cases the industrialized world sends it garbage to India to be recycled and processed. Attention was drawn to the issue after September 11th because some of the material salvaged from “Ground Zero” was sent to India and there were reports it contained PCBs, asbestos, dioxons, mercury and lead.

In India recycling is often done by the trash collectors, who sort through the garbage and sell the recyclable materials. Bones are collected in Calcutta and boiled in huge vats to remove the fat. The bones are then crushed by noisy grinding machines into fertilizer. They also people who sift through burnt coal, looked for unused pieces which they wash and recycle. [Source: Peter White, National Geographic, April 1983].

Nothing is wasted. Ropes are made from coconut husks.

The Tata Energy Research Institute in New Delhi is committed to coming up with novel ways to tackle India's energy shortages and pollution problems. Among their inventions are methods of filtering sewage water into drinking water;

Environmentalists in India

Wildlife First is an environmental group focused on saving the remaining tracts of forest in the Western Ghats. Greenpeace India is a chapter of Greenpeace. Vandana Shibam, the founder of the Foundation of Science-Technology and Ecology, is one of most prominent environmentalists in India.

Women in northern India were pioneers in protests against deforestation. In 1973, 3,000 women led by Chandu Prasad of the Daholi Gram Swaajiya Mandal (DGSM), a Dasholi village citizens group, in Uttaranchal, worried that deforestation would threaten their livelihoods, stood in front of a grove of cedar trees to protect them from being cut down by a logging company. The women said they would “hug the trees” to protect them. Their effort became known as the “chipko” movement (“chipko”” means “hug” in Hindi). The next year women in another village destroyed bridges to prevent loggers from gaining access to another forest. In 1976, the government banned deforestation. In Uttaranchal, every village has a conservation committee comprised of villagers and state officials. Three fourths of the councils are led by women.

Conservation in India is primarily a middle-class movement. Prosperous Indian families have donated a great deal of time and money to help Indian wildlife. Environmentalist are sometimes accused of being communists. Biologists often look for work outside the country because there are few conservation and teaching jobs on India.

Sunderlal Bahuguna is an environmentalist and former Gandhi disciple who walks the mountains of the Himalayan region decrying the evils of deforestation. He told Smithsonian magazine the unfortunate story of one village: "150 years ago the village people here were well off. Then an Englishman began commercial timbering in the 1850s. When the Raja of Tehri saw how profitable it was he took control of the forest away from the people and reserved them for big timber interests. Our deodars ( a species of cedar) were chopped down to make railroad ties for the East India Company. Denied access to the forests, which traditionally had provided them with fodder, fuel and food, the villager were left with nothing...I tried to find the causes of poverty among these people," he said. "I decided it was due to deforestation which led to soil erosion, murderous landslides and the drying up of water resources.

Bahuguna educated people on the dangers of deforestation by walking from village to village as Gandhi did in the 1940s, informing villagers through village council meeting, school lectures, and meetings with farmers and villager elders. He also taught children tree hugging conservation games and encouraged people to abandon their wasteful ways and plant trees. One Indian environmentalist said that Bahuguna and his methods “achieved more in 10 years than the forest department could have done in 100 years.”

National Parks and Reserves in India

There are 668 protected areas (PAs) , extending over 161,221.57 square kilometers (4.9 percent of India’s total land area), including 102 national parks, 515 wildlife sanctuaries, 47 conservation reserves and four community reserves. There are also 39 tiger reserves and 28 elephant reserves. UNESCO has designated five protected areas as World Heritage Sites. More are being added all the time. If those under active consideration are approved the list of protected areas would include 166 national parks. [Source: Yahoo Answers, 2013, Report of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India- Protected Area Network]

In 1975 India had only 5 national parks and 126 wildlife sanctuaries. In 1987 it had 54 national parks and 248 sanctuaries. At that time nearly 12 percent of Indian forested land had been aside for wildlife, an area of more than 38,610 square miles. [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, Smithsonian, November 1987]

The Indian Board of Wildlife was created in 1952 by rich British landowners and industrialists, many former hunters, to preserve India's wildlife. International attention focused on India wildlife in 1969 when the International Union for Conservation of Nature held conference in New Delhi with representatives from 100 countries. In 1970 India outlawed the shooting of tigers and 61 endangered species. [Source: by John Putman, National Geographic September 1976]

In 1972, there were 150 wild life sanctuaries. Many were on small pieces of land surrounded by farms and villages. Some were no larger than large city parks in an American city. The parks with the most wildlife in many cases were the hunting preserves of local maharajahs. The animals in Asia come into contact with humans much more frequently than the animals in Africa, which partly accounts for why many more people are killed by wild animals in the Indian subcontinent than in Africa.

Streams have been diverted and wells have been dug in the dry parts of some national parks to provide wildlife with drinking water. One goal is set up corridors to allow animals from different groups to breed, strengthening the gene pool of the species. But there is little chance these corridors will ever become a reality. Land set aside for them on conservation maps has already been taken over by farms and pastures.

India's national parks might be in even worse shape than they are were it not for the fact that the country's first prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi, and his grandson Rajiv Gandhi were all conservationists.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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