Rivers are forces of nature, but over time, humans have learned to harness their power and change their course — often for the worse
The intro to a Longreads collection on four mighty rivers and what we are doing to kill them resonates. After all, Peepli as a concept began with this Arati Kumar-Rao exploration of the many ways in which another of the world’s storied rivers, the Brahmaputra, is at increasing risk. Here, the four stories from the Longreads collection:
The Ganges: Holy, Deadly River
Move still further downstream and you reach Varanasi. I assume that this — the cultural heart of India and of Hinduism and, it is said, the world’s oldest living city — must be the place to understand what is being done to the Ganges and why Indians so abuse the river they worship. At dawn near the ghats (the riverside steps) and funeral pyres, holy men meditate and pilgrims bathe. A pair of dogs fight over charred human remains on the muddy shore (one scientist has calculated that 32,000 human corpses are cremated here each year, with 200 tonnes of half-burnt human flesh discharged into the Ganges). The rotting remains of a monkey, its face distorted in a watery rictus, is caught on a boat’s mooring line. A rotund man snorts like a hippopotamus as he swims across to the far bank and a yoga lesson broadcast by loudspeaker punctuates the subdued roar of awakened humanity.
Killing the Colorado — a fantastic, and fantastically well conceptualised, Pro Publica project on the myriad ways in which a river that sustains 40 million Americans is being choked to death
River of Death: Pegged to the death of a young boy, Steve Fisher investigates how American companies dump toxic waste into Mexico’s storied Santiago River
The San Jacinto, and the toxins that flow through it — this story, via the Houston Press, is notable for the many themes it shares with the Ganges, the Colorado, the Santiago. And the Brahmaputra. Different rivers, same old story.
Bonus link: Chasing the Sacred, Peter McBride’s exploration of the Ganges from source to sea, underlines many of the themes and points Victor Mallet makes in the FT piece linked to above.
(Lead image courtesy Der Spiegel)