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Israel helps India clean up the Ganges river

Aug 09, 2012

26 years since India embarked on a lofty plan to restore the heavily polluted Ganges river, there still are many setbacks. Now, with fresh money from the World Bank, and cleantech solutions from the Israeli Government, the river might just make a recovery.

On its journey south and east from the Western Himalayas, through the Gangetic Plain of North India and on to the Bay of Bengal, the Ganges flows for over 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles). More than 400 million people dwell in its basin and depend on its life source. It's one of the world's 20 largest rivers - and also one of the most polluted on the planet.

In places, the once sacred, life-giving Ganges has become a cesspool, polluted with fecal waste, semi-cremated bodies, and water-borne disease. In its $3 billion (2.4 billion euros) quest to restore the Ganges to health, the Indian government is turning to an unlikely source - Israel - a tiny, arid Middle East country that is producing world-leading water technology.

Israel NewTech, an initiative led by the Israeli Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour, is matching Israeli clean-tech companies with Indian partners to tender solutions for the Ganges.
The Indian government aims to have no untreated municipal sewage or industrial runoff enter the Ganges by 2020, but according to Oded Distel, head of Israel NewTech, cleaning the Ganges is more like a 20-year mission.

"It's a huge project. It combines technological aspects and elements from waste water treatment and water management up to irrigation," he said. During dry season, "it becomes more a kind of canal for waste water rather than a real living river."

The World Bank is investing $1 billion (812 million euros) in loans and credits to India, to help with the first step in the Ganges River clean-up. The first goal is to reduce pollution in a sustainable way.

This may mean revolutionary changes to centuries old farming practices in India, where irrigation traditionally relies on the monsoon for flooding, resulting in chemical run-off into the Ganges.

One joint Israeli–Indian company, NaanDanJain, has established a test farm for drip irrigation in India. What is otherwise known as micro-irrigation is an Israeli technology that saves water and fertiliser by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants through a network of valves, pipes, tubing and emitters.

According to NaanDanJain director Amnon Ofen, this technology already started to change the face of Indian agriculture. "The irrigation business in India these days is above $0.5 billion a year, which in the next two or three years, will reach $1.5 billion - just micro irrigation," he said, adding this would be the reason why foreign companies are based in India.

To read the complete story, click here.

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