How a foreigner is resurrecting River Ganga basin
Anthony Acciavatti's atlas presents a comprehensive picture of physical dynamics of the holy river's basin that we need to know.
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Driving through the eastern part of the city and over the National Highway 24, one just can't miss the sight of canals, hydraulic structures over nullahs and rivulets, hand pumps in roadside eateries, tube wells in fields behind them, walls painted with advertisements of submersible pumps etc.
Similarly, flying over Uttar Pradesh one can notice an elaborate web of canals and water bodies. A bulk of the capital's population consumes water coming from the Ganga through canals on a daily basis. Yet for most of us, all these sights and experiences occur in isolation and we fail to see the big picture. The fact is all these - rivulets, canals, lakes, pumps, tube wells - are part of a giant and unique system called the Ganga river basin, which Fulbright Fellow and author Anthony Acciavatti calls the Ganges Water Machine.
The Ganga river basin is unique in the world - spread over 1.1 million sqkm and is home to one-fourth of India's population. It is also the world's most engineered river basin. It is a dynamic system, closely interconnected with the monsoon. Acciavatti came to India in 2005 on one-year fellowship to map the river basin, but ended up spending close to a decade to complete the task. He has travelled by foot, boat and road from Gomukh to Patna along the river, documenting its dynamic nature, engineering infrastructure in the basin, along with associated history and culture. He has developed dynamic maps of the basin.
"When I started my work, beyond maps printed in the 1960s, I couldn't find any visual material of how millions of people were distributed across this vast agricultural basin. No one really had anything that I hadn't already seen in the US," Acciavatti recalled while speaking about his study at the just concluded CMS Vatavaran Green Film Festival.
He then started mapping the basin on his own with a digital camera, handheld GPS unit and a self-designed instrument to map soil. He chose points and areas to visit and revisit to record and interpret how they changed over the course of a year. He lived in Allahabad for one year, visiting the Triveni Sangam every week photographing and drawing how it changed. "I combined conventions of drawing from architecture and geography with photography and techniques of animation," he says. Acciavatti now has a total of 25,000 images. The Ganga atlas that he has published this year is a unique book, presenting comprehensive picture of cultural and physical dynamics of the Ganga basin.
"This river can never be drawn as two parallel lines. It has layers of canals, wells, roads, railway lines, human settlement, agriculture, and topography. For instance, maps and texts in the book show how and why 'soft infrastructures' like wetlands are well suited for run-off or how temporary structures keep the river at a navigable depth in pre-monsoon months," Acciavatti explains. These insights can be valuable when we are talking of "cleaning" and "rejuvenating" the river.