India’s humanitarian crisis continues to worsen as more than one hundred COVID-19 victims have been found washed up on the banks of the Ganges (Ganga) River in Uttar Pradesh state.
Authorities are concerned that disposing bodies directly into the Ganga, which is worshipped by Hindus as ‘Mother Ganga’, is threatening the water quality of the river and its tributaries – which provide a vital water source for more than 400 million people who rely on it for drinking, bathing and irrigation.
The soaring death toll from the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the world's second most populous country has led to a shortage of firewood for cremations and rising funeral costs, forcing grieving families to abandon their traditional Hindu cremations, and instead dispose of the bodies of their loved ones directly into the Ganges River.
A local resident told the BBC: “Private hospitals are looting people. Common people are not left with money to pay a priest and spend more on cremation at the riverbank. They are asking 2,000 rupees [$27] just to get the corpse out of the ambulance. The river has become their last recourse, so people are immersing corpses in the river."
At a 16 May review meeting, the Indian Government instructed Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to address the crisis. The Jal Shakti Ministry said: “Namami Gange directs states to prevent dumping of dead bodies in the Ganga and focus on their safe disposal and providing support for ensuring dignified cremation."
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has been appointed to monitor the water quality of the Ganges and its tributaries more frequently in liaison with health departments, providing guidance to state pollution control boards.
At the review meeting, additional measures, such as patrolling and financial support for cremations, were announced to deter people from dumping bodies into the river. An additional 13 crematoria have been made available under the National Mission for Clean Ganga programme – ‘Namami Gange’.