The Ganges is a major river in the Indian subcontinent flowing east through the plains of northern India into Bangladesh.
The 2,510 km long river begins at the Gangotri Glacier in the Indian state of Uttaranchal in the central Himalayas and drains into the Bay of Bengal through its vast delta in the Sunderbans. It is held sacred by Hindus and is worshipped in its personified form as the goddess Ganga.
The Ganga and its tributaries drain a large and fertile basin with an area of about one million square kilometres that supports one of the world's highest density human populations. Only two rivers, the Amazon and Congo have a higher discharge than the combined flow of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Surma-Meghna river system.
The Ganges Basin with its fertile soil is instrumental to the agricultural economies of India and Bangladesh. The Ganges and its tributaries provide a year round source of irrigation to a large area. Chief crops cultivated in the area include rice, sugarcane, lentils, oil seeds, potatoes, and wheat.
Fishing also provides opportunities to many along the river, though the river remains highly polluted. Tourism is another related activity. Three towns, holy to Hinduism – Haridwar, Allahabad, and Varanasi attract thousands of pilgrims to its waters.
Current threats The Ganges collects large amounts of human pollutants as it flows through highly populous areas. These populous areas, and other people down stream, are then exposed to these potentially hazardous accumulations. While proposals have been made for remediating this condition so far no great progress has been achieved.
The major polluting industries on the Ganges are the leather industries, especially near Kanpur, which use large amounts of chromium and other chemicals, and much of it finds its way into the meagre flow of the Ganga.
However, industry is not the only source of pollution. The sheer volume of waste — estimated at nearly 1 billion litres per day, of mostly untreated raw sewage — is a significant factor. Also, inadequate cremation procedures contributes to a large number of partially burnt or unburnt corpses floating down the Ganga, in addition to livestock corpses.