Water is life. From the nine months we spend in our mother’s womb, to that which makes up nearly all of our physical bodies, to that which we inhale and exhale along with oxygen and carbon dioxide, to that which irrigates our fields and quenches our parched throats, water is intricately and inherently woven into every aspect of life. However, tragically today, water has too frequently become a source of illness and death rather than health and life.
According to United Nations statistics, by 2040 the world will have only half the water it needs. The situation in India is even more dire: By 2030 the country with 1.5 billion people will have only half the water it needs. Currently in India, approximately 1,600 children under the age of five die every single day simply due to lack of clean water, proper sanitation and hygiene.
The Ganges River is one of the largest rivers in the world. It flows from the snow-capped western Himalayas, across the plains of northern India, to the Bay of Bengal. This great river, India’s longest river, supports a population of approximately 500 million people.
The Ganges River, or or “Ganga Maiya” (Mother Ganga), is also one of the most sacred in the world and worshipped by the 80% of Indians that are Hindus. Mother Ganga provides a sense of belonging and pride to the people of India and it is highly revered by Hindus.
“Of purifiers I am the wind, of the wielders of weapons I am Rama, of fishes I am the shark, and of flowing rivers I am the Ganga.”
– Bhagavad Gita 10.31
Photograph by Simon Norfolk | Institute for The New Yorker
Over time, the 1500-mile holy river has become poisoned by industrial chemicals, farm pesticides and other sewage. It is estimated that one billion gallons of waste enter the river every day.
Climate change has contributed to a stagnation of glacial flows from the Himalayan peaks to the Bay of the Bengal.
As the situation worsens, the risk of waterborne illnesses increases for the millions who are already without adequate sanitation.
For more than 30 years, Indian governments have worked to clean the Ganges, but progress has been met with apathy and corruption.
Only by working together, by overcoming greed and fear through a cultural and spiritual transformation, can we save the self-purifying river Hindus refer to as Ganga, the goddess carried down to the Earth by Lord Shiva.
“The Gangotri Glacier from which Mother Ganga comes down to earth is melting day by day and the flow of water will become less and less. It will become difficult for people to irrigate their land to grow crops. If the water is less, their animals will die. If Ganga dies, then the whole universe – and for us India is the whole universe – will die with her.”
– J.P. Pandit
Launched at UNICEF World Headquarters in New York during the United Nations General Assembly Meetings, under sponsorship of USAID and the Government of the Netherlands, the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, with its Secretariat in Rishikesh, India, is the world’s first initiative that is engaging the planet’s many faiths as allies in efforts to create a world where every human being has access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation and proper hygiene.
Pictured above: The historic and pivotal inauguration of a innovative, simple and effective Physico-Chemical River Remediation Treatment System using Geotube Technology at the Kukrail Nala (sewage drain) in Lucknow, with the Honorable Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Mahant Shri Yogi Adityanathji, Honorable Union Minister Shri Nitin Gadkariji, the able leadership, vision and blessings of H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, President of Parmarth Niketan, Honorable Minister of Urban Development, Government of Uttar Pradesh, Shri Suresh Khannaji, Honorable Minister for Technical Education & Medical Education, Government of Uttar Pradesh, Shri Ashutosh Tandonji, Chief Secretary Uttar Pradesh, Shri Manoj Kumarji, Shri Rajneesh Mehra, CEO of Ingeo Private Ltd, and many other dignitaries and urban local leaders.
Pujya Swamiji who had been saving and planning to build an ashram for international and national pilgrims in Devprayag decided to utilize these funds to not build the ashram, but to invest in technology that would abate the pollution going into the holy Ganges River.
“The need of the hour is to become a bridge and serve to convert places of waste and filth into places of wealth and faith. The government is working on the grand plan for the thousands of nalas (drains) going into the River Ganga, but we — individuals, institutions, industries, and all stakeholders — can come together to take care of the ground plan. Let us turn our grey water into green and clean water.”
– H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji
The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) feels that nothing short of a behavior change revolution is required in order to ensure healthy, sustainable WASH for nearly half of India’s population.
The Swachhta Kranti
Our compelling faith-based Swachhta Kranti (Clean Revolution) campaign has been designed to do just that. Through the inspirational words of beloved faith leaders, populations that had never dreamed of building and using toilets are being motivated to embrace improved sanitation and more. As they do so, they join GIWA in expanding the Swachhta Kranti campaign amongst their friends, neighbors and others through their own endeavors and by participating in GIWA’s grand processions, mass pledges, Sanitation & Hygiene Rallies and more.
World Toilet College
GIWA’s World Toilet College offers classroom and outreach trainings that cover the entire range of sanitation topics. So far, our World Toilet College provided more than 3000 people with knowledge and skills to directly address India’s most pressing sanitation needs. Courses offered included Toilet Building, Sanitation Ambassador Training Programme, Hygiene in Schools, Student Led Total Sanitation, Healthy Homes and Families, Professional Toilet Cleaning, and various capacity building programs on WASH for key stakeholders such as SHG members, grassroots-level volunteers and natural leaders of communities.
WASH on Wheels and Swachh Bharat Yatras
Dedicated social workers, volunteers and performers are providing outreach in festivals, events, streets, slums and villages through GIWA’s unique WASH on Wheels programme and Swachh Bharat Yatras. WASH on Wheels is an inspired mobile educational platform which features videos of foremost faith leaders promoting the use of toilets, as well as street theatre, puppet shows, sanitation walks and more. With two trucks in constant use, a full-fledged outreach team motivates people of all ages through interactive activities geared towards promoting lasting change.
Providing classes within two schools a day, 6 days a week, GIWA’s WaterSchool programme trains and motivates teachers and students to learn the principles of sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene for becoming social change agents. WaterSchool also offers teacher’s workshops, large-scale student programmes, and the provision of WASH needs including toilets, hand-washing stations, clean water and more. So far, thousands of teachers and students have been sensitized through our classroom programmes, workshops and practical demonstrations.
Women for WASH
GIWA’s Women for WASH Initiative is enabling women from villages and slums to become WASH entrepreneurs. Together, they are assembling to wage their own local Revolution against pollution, hardship and disease by helping to ensure their neighbours embrace, and have access to toilets, clean water, and more.
To enable disadvantaged women to become WASH entrepreneurs, GIWA officially launched special toilet building classes under its Women for WASH Initiative. This was accompanied by other capacity building trainings to enable these women to become more involved in making their communities Open Defecation Free.
“Sit alone on the banks of the Ganga. Meditate. Concentrate. Realize how spiritual vibrations accelerate your inner heart, even overriding your guilty conscience. Where one experiences the supreme joy that fills you now (all of a sudden). How does She instantaneously withdraw your mind and conscience from the physical world to the regions of immortality, only to suckle you with bliss and blessedness!”
– H.H. Swami Sivanandaji
H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji‘s motto in life is, “In the Service of God and humanity.” Selflessly dedicated to the welfare of all, He leads, directs and inspires numerous large-scale initiatives that are touching the lives of countless people across India and around the world. Touched by the hand of God at the tender age of eight, Pujya Swamiji left His home to live a life devoted to God and humanity, spending His youth in silence, meditation and austerities high in the Himalayas. At the age of seventeen, after nine years of unbroken, intense spiritual practice, He returned from the forest under the direction of His guru, and obtained an academic education to parallel His spiritual one. Today, Pujya Swamiji’s religion is unity, and he has been a leader in numerous international, interfaith events, summits and parliaments, including at the United Nations, the Vatican, the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, the House of Commons, the Parliament of World’s Religions, Religions for Peace, KAICIID, the Hindu-Jewish Summit in Jerusalem, and countless others. Pujya Swamiji is also the Founder of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) India, the world’s first international initiative which brings together the world’s faiths as allies in helping to ensure every person around the world has access to healthy, life-sustaining Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH); the India Heritage Research Foundation (IHRF), an international, non-profit foundation which is known for humanitarian activities, as well as intellectual endeavors, such as the publication of the 11-volume Encyclopedia of Hinduism, as well as free education, medical services, ashrams in the sacred land of Mansarovar and Mt. Kailash in Tibet, and morel; the International Yoga Festival at Parmarth Niketan (Rishikesh), which draws countless people every year to Rishikesh, India, the birthplace of yoga; the world’s-first Hindu-Jain temple, located in Pittsburgh, and the Minto Shiva temple in Sydney Australia. Pujya Swamiji has also played crucial roles in the founding of innumerable other temples and Indian cultural centres around the world. Pujya Swamiji is also on the Board of Trustees of the India Development Foundation of Overseas Indians (IDF-OI), set up by the Government of India in 2008 as a not-for-profit Trust to facilitate Overseas Indian philanthropy into social and development projects in India. He furthermore serves on the Advisory Board of KAICIID (King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue), which is an intergovernmental organization whose mandate is to promote globally the use of dialogue to prevent and resolve conflict, and to enhance understanding and cooperation among different cultures and religions. Pujya Swamiji is the recipient of innumerable awards, including: the World Peace Ambassador Award, Mahatma Gandhi Humanitarian Award, Hindu of the Year Award, the Lions Club Prominent Personality Award, Best Citizens of India Award, the Uttaranchal Ratan Award, and many more. However, Pujya Swamiji seems unaffected by this incredible list of accomplishments and remains a pious child of God, owning nothing, draped in saffron robes, living a life of true renunciation. His days in Rishikesh are spent offering service to those around him. Thousands travel from across the globe simply to sit in His presence, to receive His “darshan.” He also travels the world, bringing the light of wisdom, inspiration, upliftment and the divine touch to countless souls.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji was raised in an American family in Hollywood, California and graduated from Stanford University. She was completing her Ph.D. when she left America in 1996 to come and live permanently at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, India. She has been living there since, engaged in spiritual study, practice, and service. She was officially initiated into the order of Sanyas (monastic renunciation) in the year 2000, by her Guru, His Holiness Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji. Sadhviji is a renowned speaker who gives keynote addresses at large forums, on a wide variety of topics ranging from conscious business to science and spirituality to sustainable development to the keys of happiness and peace in life to all aspects of yoga. She has also been a featured speaker at the United Nations, Parliament of World Religions and many international conferences and summits. Her talks blend the knowledge and logic of the West with the insights, spirituality and wisdom of the East, and she is renowned as a spiritual bridge between the two cultures. At Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, where she lives most of the year, she teaches meditation, gives spiritual discourses and daily satsang, provides counseling and oversees myriad charitable and humanitarian projects and activities. Sadhviji is also: President of Divine Shakti Foundation, a foundation dedicated to bringing education and empowerment to women and children which runs free schools, vocational training programs and empowerment programs. Secretary-General of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, an international interfaith organization dedicated to bringing clean water, sanitation & hygiene to the children of the world. Director of the annual world-famous International Yoga Festival at Parmarth which has been covered in Time Magazine, CNN, New York Times, Le Monde and other prestigious publications. Sadhviji has a Ph.D in Psychology and was the Managing Editor for the monumental project of the 11-volume Encyclopedia of Hinduism.
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“Although we take it for granted, sanitation is a physical measure that has probably done more to increase human life span than any kind of drug or surgery.”
– Deepak Chopra