International Day of Action for Rivers: A Detour to Dawki

Pollution, mining, deforestation, physical impediments created by man—a host of challenges confront India’s rivers. But a bright spot in all this is the Dawki or Umngot River in Megalaya. In the 2021 listing of the cleanest rivers of the world, Dawki made it to Number 4, behind only the Thames (England), Tara River (Montenegro-Bosnia Herzegovina), and St. Croix (USA). An incredible achievement by any standards.

Dawki river

I had the good fortune to visit Megalaya recently and Dawki was an essential part of the itinerary. Reality is not far from the numerous idyllic pictures on the internet (one from the Meghalaya Tourism site reproduced here!). It is indeed glass-like, a clear green to greeny-blue, with visibility right to the bottom of the river, going down to about 50 feet in parts. The boat-ride on the river was one of the most soothing experiences.


Much of what is good in the Northeast, including how well the Dawki is maintained, can be attributed to community participation in the safegaurding and nurture of community resources. If only these mindsets and practices could be replicated in other parts of the country! (But actually, I am more worried about the wrong mindsets and practices from other parts of the country reaching the Northeast!).

An interesting part of the experience was that the ghat from where one takes the boat-ride is bang on the Indo- Bangladesh border. In fact, only a line of small stones separates the two countries! There is active commerce between the two sides, with hands reaching out to take goods and receive money (Indian currency acceptable). I tasted a number of pickles from a vendor on the other side. And of course the photo-op of the place is pics of people straddling the border or line of stones! The border is manned by the BSF on our side, who keep a sharp lookout  for cross-border movement especially as evening falls.

But getting back to rivers and river quality.  Water quality can be defined as the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of water. Parameters that are frequently sampled or monitored for water quality include temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, Oxidation-Reduction Potential, and turbidity.

Of these, dissolved oxygen or DO is considered the most important indicator of water quality of rivers, lakes etc. The higher the DO, the better the water quality. Lower Dissolved Oxygen means that there is not enough oxygen in the water to support fish and other aquatic life. Low DO is a result of excess growth of algae in water. Such growth happens where there is an excess of phosphorus and nitrogen going into the water. These chemicals come into the waterbodies through discharges from wastewater treatment, agricultural run-off (from the use of pesticides and fertilizers) and storm water runoff.

Rivers are our lifelines, and quality of the waters in our rivers is an area of major concern both in India and across the world. It is to focus attention on this that an International Day of Action for Rivers was declared in 1997. This was at the initiative of International Rivers Network, Narmada Bachao Andolan (India), and Biobio Action Group (Chile), and is marked on March 14 every year.

On this day dedicated to saving, celebrating, and creating awareness about the importance of rivers, let’s think about our rivers and how our actions impact them. What will it take to have some more Indian rivers join a lonely Dawki on the list of the cleanest rivers of the world?


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