Untreated sewage flowing into the River Ganga  has multiple health impacts. It contaminates the food that is irrigated with the water, it creates many health risks and diseases for those who come in contact with the water, it impacts the ability of life to flourish and the river eco-system to be healthy Furthermore it impacts people’s ability to use it as a source of drinking water that can be purified and consumed.

A joint study conducted by the Montana State University in collaboration with the Banaras Hindu University and Swatcha Ganga Research Laboratory (Sankat Mochan Foundation) investigated links between disease and use of water from the River Ganga.

The researchers used a questionnaire to survey people living along the Ghats at Varanasi and used the results to estimate water-borne and enteric disease incidence and study river use among resident users of the Ganges River in Varanasi. Approximately 66% of people surveyed were found to have suffered from a water-borne or enteric disease in the year prior to the survey, including acute gastrointestinal disease, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis-A, and typhoid.

The study found significant associations between water-borne/enteric disease occurrence (disease normally spread by contaminated food, water or contact with contaminated faeces) and the use of the river.  Simple, day-to-day activities were found to be associated with the contraction of disease, such as bathing, laundry, washing eating utensils and brushing teeth.

Thirty-three cases of cholera were identified among families exposed to washing clothing or bathing in the Ganges while no cholera cases occurred in unexposed families (Hamner et.al., 2006).

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[1] Hamner, S., Tripathi, A., Mishra, R.K, Bouskill, N., Broadaway, S.C, Pyle, B.H, Ford, T.E. (2006). The role of water use patterns and sewage pollution in incidence of water-borne/enteric diseases along the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. International Journal of Environmental Health Research April 2006; 16(2): 113 – 132.