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Membership drive to save Bagmati River

May 5 2004:

Saving the Basmati River is an initiative assisted by the Oasis Foundation, Friends of the Bagmati and WaterAid.

The Friends of the Bagmati River Project has reached a new stage after local communities and NGOs – including the influential charity WaterAid - have agreed to work with the Friends on a membership programme with the Friends to help save Nepal’s most sacred river. ARC has helped mediate this agreement.

In the past the Bagmati flowed energetically through Kathmandu, beloved by local people and priests for the divine blessings that it brought. Hindus believe that if their ashes are thrown into the river they will be carried straight to heaven.

“The Bagmati is the largest of the Himalayan kingdom's 6,000 rivers, celebrated in music, poetry and literature. Its source at Bagdwar is believed to be the product of divine powers. But it is threatened by pollution, having effectively become a vast rubbish dump. The water is black and poisonous, crawling with flies and contaminated with sewage. It supposedly purifies bodies and souls, yet gives off a terrible stench.” Radio Netherlands report. March 18 2003.
In recent years however the Bagmati has flowed only sluggishly and intermittently, and it has become seriously polluted.

The problems are partly national: over recent decades the upper reaches of the Bagmati have been dammed, so the flow has been reduced. But they are also partly local: the pollution has been partly caused by litter, illegal tipping and the frequent release of raw sewage into its current.

The first problem – of the amount of water in the river – must be tackled at a national level. The second problem – of the actual pollution – is best addressed at a community level, which is where this latest initiative by ARC (with the assistance of the Oasis Foundation), Friends of the Bagmati and WaterAid comes in.

“There are many NGOs and community groups who are working on pollution issues right along the river,” said ARC’s programme officer John Smith. “This membership scheme will help them work together.”

Up until now the Friends of the Bagmati River have reported on illegal tipping and organising regular clean-up days as well as promoting the religious aspects of the sacred river. There has been some improvement to the river, much more is needed, and this new initiative will go some way in bringing about both more intensive and sustained activity.

ARC has also been supporting the WORK of Wavetex a local media company in Nepal, which is producing a documentary film of the river. The production highlights the history of the river and shows footage of it when the waters flowed through Kathmandu. It also highlights the issues confronting groups like the Friends and others as well as their efforts to clean up and restore the banks to the beautiful environment it once was.

The Oasis Foundation is a U.S. based non-profit organization working to improve the quality of life around the globe. Its primary focus is towards providing clean water and food to the world's underprivileged people.

WaterAid is an international NGO dedicated exclusively to the provision of safe domestic water, sanitation and hygiene education to the world's poorest people.

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