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thumb_loraine_india.jpg  thumb_lorraine_rob_su_india_2007.jpg  thumb_seoul_river.jpg 
 Above: L to R: On the banks of India's Ganga River: Host Lorraine Hahn with
 Rob McBride.  And people in Seoul Korea along a cleaned up urban river.

In this Episode, we examine two of the great rivers of the world and offer solutions on how these endangered rivers may be saved.  We meet an environmentalist in India fighting to save the holy Ganga. We profile "Greenpeace" work on behalf of China's Yellow River.  We visit the roof of the world and the glaciers which are source to  many great rivers.  And we examine a "mini Dam" project which is helping to preserve a river in southern China.  

This program was first broadcast on California Public television in 2008.  Subsequently updated, it was last broadcast in Hong Kong on ATV World on Friday evening May 21, 2010.

A full transcript of this program is published below.  Unless otherwise indicated narration of this program is by Lorraine Hahn and Rob McBride


VO:  Earth Factor Asia

         With Lorraine Hahn

 On this episode – Saving our Rivers. 

(effects wipe)

Lorraine Hahn on camera:  

Welcome from the banks of the one of Asia’s greatest rivers – which like so many other waterways here is facing the combined impact of climate change and human development.
Known around the world as the Ganges, here in India it is simply Ganga Maya or Mother Ganga.   As Rob McBride reports it’s relied upon by literally millions of people for their very existence. 

(effects wipe – flute music up)


First light over the Ganga.  And as they do every morning throngs of the faithful are drawn to its waters.


Here at Varanasi far down its length, where the river

has settled into a gentle meander, the banks attract the largest numbers of devotees.


Considered the living embodiment of Hinduism, millions come to the river to worship.


They come to wash themselves.                          


To wash their clothes.


Even their animals.


But all this intense activity often takes place right next to outlets discharging raw sewage.


For with all of her religious significance, the river also

serves the more mundane function of carrying away

the vast amounts of sewage and industrial waste,

generated by the cities located along its length.


It also disposes of carcasses, both animal and human.


And just downstream - the main sewage outfall turns the brown river black.


A film of filth settles on its surface, bubbling with           

methane, making this part of the river a highly toxic soup.


Incredibly, this is also where one fisherman chooses               

to place his net, hoping to take advantage of the

greater fish numbers drawn to the nutrients in the


                             (up sound fisherman)


Even so, Subhash tells us, it still takes him all day to get a catch worth taking home.


The pollution of the Ganga has long been recognized     

by agencies both local and national as a pressing problem.

 But a solution has so far proved elusive.

Veer Bhadra Mishra,

Clean Ganga Campaign

 We have all possible technologies to take care of the river, but still the rivers of the world are not clean.  And here is an example of where the people have so much love and faith for the river.  But faith and love alonecannot do the job. 

Dr VB Mishra has campaigned for the past twenty-five 

years to clean up the Ganga.


As a civil engineer and also a Hindu high priest, his

approach to the problem has been a unique

combination of faith and science.


If I were only a scientist, I would run away from her.And if I were only a committed and devoted person toGanga Ji, I would fight with anybody who says theGanga is polluted.  But this is our strength, we combine both. 

To prove how polluted the Ganga has become, the                

organization he founded began regular testing at

intervals along the river.


They have shown up the inadequacies of Government   

efforts to clean up the pollution.


A traditional sewage treatment system which was

installed, often fails because of a lack of power to drive

its pumps.


The plight of the Ganga has led to calls for a major re-think on how the country deals with pollution of its waterways.

Sunita Narain,

Centre for Science and Environment, 

We cannot clean up our rivers the way the Americans cleaned up the Hudson, or the Germans cleaned upthe Rhine, or the Brits cleaned up the Thames.  And itis our inability to understand that we don't have the money or the technology to be able to keep investinginto treating sewage. So really a country likeIndia, and I think this is going to be a challenge formost of Africa,  for most of us, who will require to re-invent, the way we do pollution control.

 It is too expensive, it is perhaps too ridiculous for us to be able to do it the way the rest of the world has done it.


But what concerns campaigners is the more                           

fundamental threat to the river, posed by climate



For as satellite images show, the glaciers that feed

the Ganga high up in the Himalayas, have been

suffering alarming rates of decline.

 The broad estimate is that about 40-percent of the flows in our northern rivers comes out of glacier melt.  Which only means that we as a nationwill have to become far, far, far more careful in the use of our water.  Which also means that we will have to use every drop of water as if it is our last. 

The prospect of the river shrinking by up             

to a half, is an alarming prospect for a society that

considers it, its spiritual soul.

 To visit the Ganga at least once in your lifetime is a sacred belief of all Hindus. At the end of a life, to have your ashes brought here and then scattered on these waters - that's about as holy as it can get. 

Having his face and head shaved as a traditional sign     

of mourning, Pavan Kumar, has just arrived in

Varanasi from the neighbouring state of Jharkand,

on a holy mission.


As the sun comes up over the river, he produces the              

ashes of his father.


A short ceremony and then a trip by

boat out into the slow Ganga current, for his father's

remains to be taken by the waters.

 This is what my father would want.  Coming to theGanga means that he will have a good re-birth into the next life.  It's important. 

At intervals along the river, especially at this place                  

near the heart of Varanasi, the funeral pyres

burn day and night.


If they live close enough to the river, families will

bring the bodies of deceased relatives for cremation.


But so revered is the Ganga, that the sick and old are   

sometimes brought here from far away to await



Overlooking the pyres, and subjected to the constant             

sounds and smoke of cremations, this so-called

'Traveller's Guest House' offers accommodation for

those willing to wait months, even years, just to be sure

of a cremation on the Ganga.


All of these acts of devotion, inadvertently add to the    

pollution problems.  But they confirm the river's

indispensability in the psyche of the nation.


But for literally millions of people who live along its       

banks, the river is the very source of life itself.


It feeds a water table essential for agriculture.


The village of Kottuvam, like so many others in

this rich farming belt, relies upon the water drawn

from the ground for its crops.


Rice is one of the staples here.


With four children to feed, Gauri Devi knows the          

river's importance.


(woman talking in Hindu)                                                                


It's essential, she tells us.  Everything comes from the



At risk from climate change.  At risk from the very                 

people who worship here and rely upon it for their



Campaigners who have proposed various low-tech

and low-cost solutions have still gone unheeded.

Veer Bhadra Mishra:
The pain and suffering which I have when I look at the river and when I go to her. I know that this situation can be solved.                             (flute music up and out)  Here on the mighty Ganga’s upper reaches the water cascades clean and cold from the Himalayas, the river is relatively free of pollution, but it faces a very different set of challenges. 

(Sound music up)


The town of Rishikesh, in the Himalayan foothills,         

is famous for its ashrams and guest houses, welcoming

visitors from all over India and abroad.


Many come here on a spiritual quest.                            


But ever more tourists are being drawn by the fast

flowing waters and stunning scenery above and below

the town – especially from India’s growing and affluent

middle class.


They come to camp along the banks of the river.


And more and more people from India’s overcrowded

cities are deciding make their visits more permanent –

either moving here or investing in

weekend getaways.


Up and down the river, housing developments are appearing, with developers promoting the virtues of

owning your own piece of paradise, close to this

revered river.


It’s all part of a growing trend of urban expansion,

with people who can afford to leave behind India’s

bigger cities, choosing to do so.


Satellite towns are spreading outwards from centers

like Delhi.

 And Jaidev Singh, is among those looking for his dream home. 

Jaidev Singh,

Home Buyer
 It was all farmland, but you can see everywhere there are buildings and so it won't be                               any problem.  Most of the big malls are coming nearby, hardly a kilometer drive so it's very easy to stay. Do you see a trend of more and more people following in your footsteps ? I think 90-percent of the people following this step.

Increased affluence is fuelling this new urbanization,      

prompting intense debate at national 

conferences like this one, on how to deal with the

environmental pressures those expanding towns are


 Is the Government doing enough?

Mundayat Ramachandran, Ministry of Urban Development, 
There are substantial programmes for the river Gandes.  There are programmes, but it’s a question of full awareness being among all the people.  I mean I as a citizen should be aware of the fact that I should not be throwing waste into the river. 

Even if the impact of the new developments can be

controlled, the arrival of newcomers provides a real irony.


In trying to escape the increasingly unbearable North

Indian summers, they are seeking a refuge

along a river which itself now appears to be threatened

by the same global warming.

 While India’s rivers are increasingly at risk, so are China’s.   A very different country, but the glaciers that feed its rivers, are just as vulnerable to climate change. 

As Jim Laurie explains, China’s water concerns go all the way to the top.

"The roof of the world," - the largest and highest plateau on earth, about four times the size of Texas.


A harsh, arid land of ice and glaciers - where Asia’s major rivers begin.


But the fragile balance in this once pristine environment has been put under threat by climate change.

According to the UN, these glaciers could disappear by 2035 as temperatures rise. Causing first floods, then droughts.


The Environmental group Greenpeace, one of only a handful of international NGOs allowed to operate in China, conducted an expedition to the area in 2005. Greenpeace believes the repercussions are far reaching.

Li Yan,

Greenpeace China

The melting of these glaciers because of global warming would put hundreds of millions of people under the threat of water shortage.

 Greenpeace toured the source area of the Yellow River. Towering above the plateau is Everest, but even the best-known glaciers on the tallest mountain in the world cannot escape rising temperatures. 

Wu Guangjian, The Chinese Academy of Science

Since the 1960s, all three glaciers have been retreating. And the speed of their retreat has accelerated in the 1980s. 

Tibetans living in remote villages on the plateau say their traditional way of life has already been affected by the altered weather patterns.

Awang Ninzha,

The Rongbuk Monastery

Now the winter is as hot as the summer. There is no ice. The weather change is obvious. I’m worried about the future.  

China’s biggest future challenge: Clean drinking water for all. It has been adopted as the highest priority for China’s State Environmental Protection Agency.

Bei Tao,

Deputy Director
SEPA State Environmental Protection Agency

 There are nearly 300 million people in rural areas who don’t have clean water to drink. That may be a rough estimate but it shows the scope of the problem. A large number of people in remote areas do not have access to clean water. And that is why water and water safety is our number one priority. 


And with the need to protect the rivers to provide safe water, comes another potentially conflicting need - electric power. 


Since 1993 China has been building the largest hydroelectric dam in the world near the Yangtze Rivers three Gorges.  Now nearly complete – the Dam is to produce nearly a ninth of what China needs to power its economy.

But green groups say the impact on water quality and on people displaced from flooded lands could be monumental.


Facing such criticism - an alternative:


Some power companies are turning to more environmentally friendly - so called run-of-the river projects.  Small dams along the course of the waterway.

K K Chan,

China Light Power

Run of the river has the beauty that it incurs less environmental damage to the local areas because you are building power stations along levels of the river. So different parts of the river can release different parts of the energy itself. Comparing with a big scale hydro power project where if you want to build a big dam, more often than not, you will have certain impacts to the local environment.


In a remote part of northwest Guangdong province, a run of 11 stations provides power to local communities while causing minimal disruption to environment and villagers.


The water is flowing from the reservoir through all these pipes, which is connected to the turbines which drives the electricity generators upstairs and that generates electricity.


And while the power produced is small compared with large dams it does means remote communities can have electricity.


In dry seasons like this, typically 1 megawatt of hydro-power will be able to generate or serve approximately 1,000 to 2,000 households in the rural areas of China.


A clear benefit to people and environment.


People are still burning firewood for their kitchens and other household applications. By providing them with clean renewable energy they will be able to save a lot of wood, they don’t need to cut the trees, they can use the fuel more efficiently than before.  It will be a win-win situation for everybody involved


(Effects wipe)

  Understanding how China’s river systems work and how to manage them properly is vital for future water supplies. 

And I’m on my way to meet a man who knows more than most, about the water challenges facing the country.


Embarking on an exploration career soon after China opened up to the outside world in the 1970’s, Wong How Man is a photographer-turned-geographer, who has traveled extensively to the most remote corners of this vast country.


Through the years, he’s established himself as an authority on the geography of China, in particular the

inaccessible Tibetan Plateau. 

Wong How Man, Geographer
If you look at this China map - almost one quarter of the area is the Tibetan Plateau. And all the glaciers and snow fields are within this one quarter of it. And from this plateau start many of Asia’s greatest rivers: The Yangtze comes out here, the Yellow River, then the Mekong, the Salween, the Irrawaddy, the Ganges, Brahmaputra. So this not only the backyard of China but the backyard of the rest of Asia.  Right. And there are millions further down that rely on these rivers. Their livelihoods rely on those rivers. Certainly. If you’re just talking of the Yangtze you’re talking of 200-300 million people that live in that catchment area.  Alone the Mekong, an international river that cuts through six countries. So, certainly this is not only the concern of China. It should be the concern of the rest Asia and the world.  You have been involved with these rivers for many years. Tell me about that.  As a Geographer I’m fascinated by these great rivers. And as a byproduct of this geographical work it came to our attention that the climate change is also extremely important, that affects the upstream of these rivers. 

In his earliest travels, he was aided by satellite images

of the glaciers he was exploring - images that thirty years later, reveal significant depletion.


And with even more sophisticated satellite imagery

available to anyone through the internet today, the damage is clear for all to see.

 That used to be much larger. You can see the shadows.You can see every single one has been receded. At accelerated speed.   

No doubting the severity of the problem, but

arguably China’s best-known explorer, is also one of its most optimistic supporters.

 Is there something that you think is being done, that’s on the positive side of all of this? Well, if I look at China’s younger generation that is being educated at high school or college I tend to be optimistic. I think they’re all aware of the situation. On one side they’re more affluent and on the other side they’re also far more aware of environmental issues. So overall I think the future generation will take things in hand in a much better way than this generation.  (Effects wipe)  In trying to reach a younger generation in China, young Chinese themselves are increasingly taking a lead. On Earth Factor You we meet one woman in Shanghai who is taking a grass routes approach to environmental advocacy. (Music) I’m Zi zi Zhong and I’m the Operations Director for the Jane Goodall Institute in Shanghai. “Roots and Shoots” is a program which we bring to the school. We set up an organic garden in the school. And the students take turns to go into the garden, to take care of the vegetables. They turn the soil, they pick the worms. Here we are at Qing hu High School. This is one of the schools involved in Roots and Shoots’ “Organic Garden Program”.  They love the “Organic Garden” program because this is something they have never done before. These are children of the single child generation so they probably don’t do any house work at home. If you ask them where the food comes from they probably say “from the supermarket in Shanghai”.  Shanghai has certainly changed a lot. I can just walk in the streets in a week’s time and don’t recognize any of the buildings. And this is my city, I grew up here.  Shanghai needs people. They’re known for being very practical. They want to make things work. People want to change. People want to change for the better. There will be a time for people to transfer this vibrancy into environmentalism. This is “Slice Deli”. It’s a Deli chain in Shanghai that takes the products from the school garden and sells it to the public. This is the message we want to send to our students: You start today, you start with yourself. Then you tell your friends, you tell your parents, you tell your teachers to follow you. It’s not difficult. I’m not saying that everybody we work with - every single student - is going to be an environmentalist in the future. That’s not necessary. We don’t need that many environmentalists in this country or in this world. But once they have this sense of responsibility, when they grow up they will say “I want to do something that my children, my children’s children will not blame me for.  I’m Zi Zi Zhong. It starts with us.  (Effects wipe) On this series we like to look for the positives. So we end on a story from Seoul in South Korea on what can be done when a community comes together to clean up its river. 

It starts as a symbolic trickle across a pedestrian area in downtown Seoul.


And quickly builds into a cascade of water that provides pleasure for the people of this city, and inspiration for the residents of others.


Known as Cheong Gye Cheon, it’s come to take pride of place through the heart of Seoul.

In-Keun Lee,

Director Urban Planning, Seoul Government

Cheong Gye Cheon has very nice name.  It is ‘Clean Valley Water.’  But the river that used to exist here was far from clean, and it wasn’t much of a valley either. 

In the aftermath of the Korean War in the 1950’s, the area was little more than a squatter settlement. 

Hongsok Kim,

Professor of Urban Planning, Yonsei University

They used this area as to taking a shower, or doing their laundry. And there were a lot of social problems because the people who live around this area were poor. 

The solution seemed simple.  Cover over the river with a road – in fact, two roads.

 They thought the best solution was to cover it.  So they cover from late fifties. And we also built elevated highway from late sixties. 

Completely covered, the residents of Seoul could be forgiven for forgetting a river had ever run through it.


Then, in a bold move, the decision was taken recently to uncover and restore the waterway.

 Today a prosperous city, Seoul has decided to spend some of its wealth on itself.  Creating this green space that all of its residents can enjoy. 

The transition wasn’t easy. Thousands of shop-keepers and businesses living nearby had to be convinced.


And then there was the question of what to do with the

170-thousand cars every day, that normally drove through here.


Now a focal point for regular cultural events, and a big draw for visitors from across Korea and abroad, all those objections seem to be forgotten.


Removing all those roads and providing natural settings. And we are able to witness some of the wildlife coming back in the river and some of the birds coming back.


What's more, solving the so-called heat island effect,

has seen the average downtown temperature drop by several degrees, and the city can breathe again.


Having these streams with the water, and also having the open space will allow the wind to travel, so going through. Obviously there were changes with the temperatures and the air pollution.


Come lunchtime, and the throngs of workers from nearby offices come to enjoy their break.


On most days, Hyun Kim and her friend Young Eun can be found here.

  I am spending my lunchtime here. It's very good to be here to have the fresh air.  It's not easy to have this environment in the city, so it's very good for the citizens. 

On the nearby roads, the city traffic moves from one congested intersection to the next.


But here on the river, the only congestion happens on the stopping stones. An ironic transformation, for

a society that has largely made its wealth on the production of automobiles.

 Everybody thinks the car is more important than the people. But this Cheong Gye Cheon restoration project  this is a big turning point, because the centre of urban management is the man, not the cars. 

And where Seoul has led, other cities are now following.


Seoul is the leading city in Korea, so when we covered the river, every city followed us. They covered their

stream as well but now we restored our stream, so now they follow us and they start their restoration works as well. 


 And that’s it for this edition. From the Ganga in Northern India, I’m Lorraine Hahn.  We’ll see you next time



Rob McBride


Additional camera

Ronnie Au



Chris Dobson


Segment Producers:


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Akanksha Sood

S. Nallamuthu



Jian Yin



Rob McBride


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