A photographer’s journey down the Yamuna in Delhi captures the extent of climate change effects, abuse and encroachments
Yamuna, India’s second longest river, rises in the Garhwal Himalayas, where climate change is affecting the availability of water. The flow in the river has become more uncertain, sometimes too much, often too little.
This comes on top of all the abuse the river is subjected to, despite being considered holy by millions of people. In Hindu mythology, Yamuna is the sister of Yama, the God of Death. Two days after every Diwali, millions of women pray to her to safeguard their brothers, while it is the manifestation of the goddess in the Yamuna River that they abuse through the year.
The abuse is at its worst in India’s capital. Except in a good monsoon, the authorities take all the fresh water as the Yamuna reaches Delhi. For most of the year, when the river leaves Delhi 20 km downstream, it only has drain water.
The water channels of the Yamuna take up 1,600 hectares in Delhi; another 8,100 hectares are designated as its floodplain. This has been encroached upon by government and private agencies alike, of which the Art of Living Foundation festival was only the latest example. The crucial functions of the floodplain — groundwater recharge and flood control — have been seriously compromised.
To add to the woes, scientists say one impact of climate change is an intensification of the hydrological cycle, which means fewer rainy days in a year, but more intense rainfall on those days. That also has an adverse effect on groundwater recharge; when it rains furiously, most of the water flows away instead of seeping underground.
A pristine Yamuna is a life-giving river, as can still be seen in the stretch before its water is appropriated. Starting there, our team travelled the 20 km to document how the Yamuna is changed to an encroached-upon drain.
All images by Dilip Banerjee, photojournalist based in Delhi