New Delhi, Sep 25 | Communities surrounding 10 of India’s principal rivers say the Covid-19 lockdown has improved water quality and seen fish stock increase and more birds return to the waterways, a new ActionAid study finds.
ActionAid Association India surveyed 550 people living on the banks of rivers, including the Ganga, Yamuna and Krishna, between June and August to investigate the impacts of the pandemic on their lives and livelihoods.
Communities reported huge improvements in the quality of river water due to a reduction in industrial activities during lockdown. Nearly all (95%) respondents said industrial pollution had decreased, 70% said the water had become clearer and 80% said there had been a decrease in bad odours.
Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director of ActionAid Association India, says: “Extractive and polluting industrial processes and intensive agricultural activities have long taken their toll on India’s waterways and are having a devastating impact on the communities who rely on rivers for their livelihoods.
“The Covid-19 lockdown has shown that it is possible for once ecologically degraded rivers to team with life and once again support surrounding villages with clean water for farming, fishing and bathing.
“It is time to ensure that all polluters stop dumping waste into our rivers and that action is taken against those who do. Corporates must be accountable to communities. It’s time to ensure polluters stop polluting, so that Nature can heal itself.”
Those surveyed also reported a decrease in rubbish, including domestic (40%) and hospital waste (60%).
Ravi Prakash, from Kanpur, described the pollution and smell of the Ganga river, saying: “All effluents were visible in patches, along with bad odour, the river looked black. No one could think of going near the Ganga. Forget about taking a dip, it was difficult to pass by the riverside.
“However, with all factories being closed down there is no industrial discharge to the river. Now the river water quality has improved around 40% to 50% making life easy for all of us.”
Communities living along the rivers say their livelihoods have improved along with the water quality. The survey found that 84% of respondents said fish populations in their rivers had increased.
Fisherman Sadul, 35, from Maharajganj, said fish varieties and quantities have been decreasing in recent years, but since lockdown fish numbers are on the up. Sadul says: “I also don’t see waste floating in the river, that allows fish to grow better. Now I am earning a good amount of money by selling fish.”
Migratory birds returning to waterways are also a positive sign that biodiversity is improving. Suranjan Pradhan, 32, from Sambalpur on the banks of the river Mahanadi, works in for a local NGO and says he has seen more than twenty varieties of birds on the riverbanks since lockdown.
“It’s such a pleasant site to watch them hop from one place to other and the varieties of sound they make,” he says. “It’s high time we all, including the government, learn a lesson from this lockdown and control pollution for the survival of all living beings in and around riverbank, so that our biodiversity gets enriched.”
The study found that the shutdown of factories during the pandemic is enabling communities to use river water for smallholder farming for the first time in years. Nearly half of respondents (47%) said they were increasingly using river water for agriculture.
Migrant worker Roop, 63, of the Bhilala tribal community in Alirajpur, returned to his home village after the textile mill he was working at in Gujarat, shut during lockdown. Along with six family members, he walked 300km with little food or water.
“Fortunately, we reached home alive, while we know many people who died on the road. We decided to cultivate vegetables on the land close to the Narmada river. We harvested a good amount, and this helped us meet our needs and we had enough left over to sell at market.”
The report release on 25th September 2020 can be accessed here: https://www.actionaidindia.org/publications/river-ecology-assessment-impact-covid-19-lockdown/
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