Mapping the River Ganga, India’s Iconic Water Machine

The River Ganga is one of the most densely populated river basins in the world. It is home to almost one-third of India’s people who depend on it for their lives and livelihoods. The Ganga’s fertile alluvial basin, although situated largely within India, also extends into Bangladesh, Nepal, and China. Its unique topography, scale, challenges, and level of innovation offer new perspectives on understanding rivers globally.

The Ganga is so economically and culturally meaningful in India that it has been envisioned as a living organism in itself. Representations of the Ganga, however, leave out the fact that it is also a highly engineered hydrological super-surface. A surface that is constructed from innumerable mechanical interventions operating at vastly different scales - from massive state-sponsored canals to community wells and individually drilled wells and hand pumps.  

Each year, the river basin undergoes radical physical changes wrought by monsoon season and the building of new extractive machines. These changes of the river are captured in a 'dynamic atlas' of the Ganga produced by Anthony Acciavatti from the Graduate School of Art, Architecture and Planning at Columbia University. Acciavatti carried out the first systematic study and comprehensive mapping of the infrastructural transformation of the Ganges River Basin to understand how human intervention and engineering have shaped its water management and use. For nearly a decade, he crisscrossed the river by foot and boat, deploying new methods of mapping cities and towns as well as the rhythms of the monsoon. This study resulted in the publication of an award-winning and highly acclaimed book in 2015 entitled Ganges Water Machine: Designing New India’s Ancient River

Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai’s 18-month project on the Ganga, largely supported by the Ford Foundation, entails traveling exhibits of Acciavatti’s work, panel discussions, policy workshops, and trainings through webinars, podcasts, seminars, and developing educational tools. The project aims to raise public awareness and promote informed decision-making on future directives regarding the development and management of the Ganga.   

Specific goals include:

  • Raising awareness of the environmental and economic heritage of this unique river basin and its implications for water security, regionally and worldwide
  • Narrowing the research and pedagogical gap in mapping methodologies and data visualization techniques, and promoting multidisciplinary approaches to yield deeper analyses of the Ganga’s water resources and their management
  • Partnering with knowledge institutions in the region to provide guidelines for policy-makers and offer sustainable insights for future livelihoods, preservation, flood control, clean water, and development plans regarding the Ganga river basin

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