As we write these lines sitting inside the Tarumitra Bio-reserve in Patna, the festival of Chatt is on. It is an agricultural festival falls on the 6th day after Divali, the Festival of lights.
What marks the Chatt festival is that the whole thing is solemnized at the banks of River Ganga “Ganges.” Nothing less than a million people congregate on the banks of this river in the capital district of Patna alone. Known as the perfect festival with the whole city spruced up, washed and decked, zillions of lights and thousands of volunteers guiding the people for their annual march to the great River.
People, women in particular offer baskets of fruits, vegetables and sweets to the setting Sun in the evenings and the rising Sun in the mornings. It is a huge festival of family reunion and within the radius of lofty sentiments to the Father Sun, Mother Earth and Sister River.
River Ganga “Ganges” takes the brunt of the Festival!
When a million people take bath and cook their meals by the river, one can imagine the impact this human activity has on the river. Water turns murky and foul smelling and perfectly unhealthy as declared by the Pollution Control Board and the scientific community.
We are reminded of what Ann Bankroft and team told us just a year back when they traveled along the River Ganga “Ganges” in their boat.
Renowned polar explorers and educators Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen led a team of six women, from six continents, on an 2525 km (1,569 mile), 60-day long expedition following the river Ganges from her origin Gaumukh to the Bay of Bengal. They undertook this adventurous trip to raise the attention of people to the pathetic situation of the River Ganges that flowed through the Indian peninsula from times immemorial.
They took breaks on and off along the course of the river. They stopped by us at the Tarumitra Bio-reserve on 22 November 2015!
Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen, along with 6 women explorers from around the globe, each representing their continent and their own unique water crisis.
Expedition team with Tarumitra students: Ann Bancroft, Minnesota, USA Liv Arnesen, Oslo, Norway Olfat Haider, Haifa, Israel Cindy Jiaojiao Hu, Beijing, China Marcia Gutierrez, Temuco, Chile Kim Smith, Cape Town, South Africa Lisa te Heuheu, Turangi, New Zealand Krushnaa Patil, Mumbai
Ann Bancroft, first known woman to reach both the North and South Poles on foot and Liv Arnesen, first woman to ski solo to the South Pole teamed up in 2000 to become the first women to ski across Antarctica. They did this with the help of 3 million kids following along and they continue that partnership with their most lofty expedition yet. Ann and Liv have handpicked a woman from each continent to create the team to achieve Access Water.
Ann Bancroft’s goal was to lead a conversation with millions of youth that will raise awareness and inspire the future leaders of the world to work towards a safe and abundant world, starting with access to clean water.
Why River Ganges?
Today Indian people are slowly realizing the fact that they have a crisis on drinking water. Humans need fresh water to survive. We grow food with it, drink it, cook with it and bathe in it. We use it to create the goods and services that form our global economy. There is no substitute for fresh water. It is more crucial for human survival than any source of fuel.
River Ganga along her tributaries supplies drinking water to roughly 400 million people, one third of the entire country.
But fresh water is becoming scarce. One in eight people lack access to clean water and more than three million die each year from water-related health problems. Battles for water are creating tensions between people, interests groups and regions. In some cases, they are causing armed conflicts. Left untouched, these challenges will only worsen. Within just 15 years from now, nearly two hundred crores (2 billion) people will live in areas of severe water scarcity. The consequences are clear.
“We can solve the water crisis by bringing it to the forefront of the global agenda. This means raising awareness on water access issues, promoting resource efficiency and cooperation on the problems of pollution and climate change,” commented one of the women from Anne Bankroft’s team.
1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water, roughly one-sixth of the world’s population.
2.2 million people in developing countries, most of them children, die every year from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.
Half of the world’s hospital beds are filled with people suffering from water related illnesses.
More people die from lack of clean water and sanitation each year than are killed by all forms of violence, including war. (Source: Blue Planet Network)
400 million residents rely on the Ganges for water, food, bathing, and worship. The Ganges River is one of the most important and sacred rivers in the world and water has a major impact on the human and animal inhabitants living along the river.
Ann Bankroft and team spent half a day at Tarumitra
Working in tandem with TERI, Delhi, Tarumitra students welcomed the expedition to the forested ambience of Tarumitra. Namita Sharma and Garima Kaushik from TERI, Delhi camped in Patna to welcome the team.
Ann Bankroft spent considerable amount of time taking a walk around the organic farm and talked to many students on their work to protect the planet. Interacting with students who were seated under the Kadamb tree, she answered their queries adding a small fire in their hearts for adventures.
Each of the team mates from the six continents spoke in turn and conveyed their global concern for drinking water. The 18 year old Krishna Patil of course was a crowd puller. Having climbed the Mount Everest before she was 18, Krishna had very interesting anecdotes to share.
Siji Noorokaryil SJ, research student from TISS, Mumbai said that he was awed by the presence of the eight extraordinary courageous women from all the continents, sharing breathtaking moments with students in Patna.
Drinking water crisis in Bihar: the ubiquitous RO Machines
It was a memorable day for the Water-activists of Tarumitra!
Tarumitra students have been on several campaigns related to Water. There has been a concerted effort from the part of RO Machines (Reverse Osmosis) to belittle the available safe drinking water in the Gangetic plains. They frighten people in such a way, people resort to the RO Machines for filtering the already safe drinking water.
Tarumitra students organized a through testing of drinking water from 27 water sources in Patna in the heartland of India and found that none of the sources were contaminated. The RO machine companies probably got some rare stories of contaminated water planted in the media to a level an ordinary citizen was convinced that his/her water taps were contaminated. This resulted in the largescale marketing of RO machines all over the country.
Sanskriti Singh from Christ University Bangalore who led the campaign said, “While the bottled water is bereft of all naturally available minerals, the tap water which we tested had all the necessary minerals for the human body.” Devopriya Dutta who carries forward the message on the deadly water available in bottles, is confident that thousands of people got a chance to open their eyes and examine for themselves if they really needed to buy the expensive filtration machines.
Dr. Ashok Ghosh who is called the “Water man of Patna” opined that the growing water crisis in Patna is created by the RO machines. He told the students, “I have no water purifiers in my home in Patna. I drink water straight from the tap and I am perfectly healthy!” Dr. Ghosh insists that no water purifier should be put up without testing the water sources at least once in a good lab.