Germany’s Elbe river was so polluted till a few years ago that fishes in it suffered ulcers. Plastic packets and other pollutants had swamped the river, as is known, till a few years ago.
But today, the Elbe has not only been cleansed, it has become an example of river cleansing projects around the world, holding out a beacon to our very own Yamuna.
The Elbe is a river corridor to the North Sea from the very important town of Hamburg, a major German industrial hub, and here there are parallels with India.
Just like Kanpur, a city located on the banks of the holy Ganga, Hamburg was the prime curse for the Elbe, because all its industrial effluents was dumped in it. The polluted waters of the Elbe would originate from Czech Republic and cross through Hamburg and empty themselves out into the North Sea. Research shows that the highly toxic pentachlorophenol had invaded the Sea. The other pollutants were phosphorus and lead generated by mills.
The trauma of the citizens of Hamburg due to this pollution made some voluntary organisations to come forward to cleanse it. Heeding their voices, the government not only responded with listing these NGOs as partners in the cleansing drive, but also passed several laws deterring further polluting of the river. These included the shutting down of some highly polluting industrial units that emptied its effluents into the Elbe, and taking strides to clean it up. The citizens also participated in the effort with enthusiasm.
The results came to shore in 2013, when many species of fishes and other aquatic species were found returned to the river. This combined effort of the government of Germany and the people of Hamburg has led to the Elbe taking the podium stand amongst the cleanest rivers in the world today.