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A Remedy at Last for the Ailing Ganges?

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Science  22 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6028, pp. 412-413
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6028.412

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Every day, more than 200 million liters of sewage and industrial waste—much of it untreated—ooze into the Ganges from the holy Hindu city of Varanasi. But a remedy for the ailing river may be at hand. This spring, India's central government is expected to give final approval for an innovative water-treatment scheme in Varanasi. As part of a $4 billion initiative to cleanse India's rivers by 2020, the government intends to replicate the Varanasi solution in other cities on the Ganges. The project should make an inroad against one of India's biggest killers: waterborne diarrheal illnesses. Chromium from leather tanneries, toxic dyes from silk factories, and pesticides and other runoff from farm fields are also taking a toll on the ecology of the Ganges Basin, home to some 500 million people. The water project will also mark a major milestone in a 30-year-long grassroots campaign to improve the river that began in Varanasi, one of the oldest inhabited cities on Earth. And it would be a personal triumph for the movement's charismatic 71-year-old leader, Veer Bhadra Mishra, an engineer and mahant, or spiritual head, of Varanasi's Sankat Mochan Temple.