W.Bank to loan India $1 bln to clean up Ganges

Hindus offer prayers on the banks of river Ganges on the holy day of "Mahalaya", in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata September 18, 2009. REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The World Bank will loan India $1 billion over the next five to seven years to clean up the Ganges, the holy river that is one of the world’s most polluted, the country’s environment minister said on Wednesday.

The lender will also help India access $4 billion in funds for stopping dumping of untreated waste into the Ganges, according to a joint statement issued by Minister Jairam Ramesh and World Bank President Rober Zoellick in the Indian capital.

The 2,510-kilometre-long river that runs from a glacier in the western Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh, supports over 400 million of India’s 1.1 billion population.

Sewage and industrial effluents pour into much of its course through India’s most populated states, reducing its capacity to support life and making it unfit for human or animal use. Floating corpses are a common sight as Hindus believe cremation on the river banks leads to salvation.

The government has planned to end discharge of untreated waste into the Ganges by 2020.

Earlier attempts to clean the river have failed, including a plan to make its water drinkable by 1989.

Reporting by C.J. Kuncheria; editing by Chris Pizzey