NEW DELHI — Indian officials signed an agreement with the World Bank on Tuesday to use a $1 billion loan to finance the first major new effort in more than 20 years to cleanse the revered Ganges, one of the world’s dirtiest rivers.
One-third of India’s 1.2 billion people live along the banks of the 1,560-mile-long river, many of them relying on it for drinking, cooking and washing. Millions more visit for ritual baths to cleanse themselves of sin. But untreated sewage, agricultural runoff and industrial waste have fouled its waters for decades, and hydroelectricprojects and dams threaten to choke off its waters in spots.
On Tuesday, a religious leader on a hunger strike over the effect of illegal mining on the state of the river, Swami Nigamanand, died after spending weeks in a coma..
The long-awaited loan is part of a government project that aims to halt the discharge of untreated wastewater into the river by 2020. The project, founded in 2009, replaced the 1986 Ganga Action Plan, the last large-scale attempt to address the pollution. That initiative was able to introduce waste water treatment in certain areas, it failed to halt raw waste disposal into the Ganges. Critics said it was inadequately financed and poorly managed.