Naalas are one of the most ubiquitous features of the Ganga River Basin. A stem, watercourse, sewer, drain, or conduit are but a few of the many functions of naalas. Indeed, naalas are critical hydrological infrastructures for farms and cities alike. This applied research project will focus on how the restructuring of naalas within the Ganga River basin can abate pollution and rejuvenate River Ganga with new forms of civic infrastructure and ecological services. In a manner like other major river basins across the world, from the Mississippi to the Yangtze, the Ganga River basin confronts many of the challenges that result with industrialization and urbanization in terms of pollution and environmental degradation. While these challenges are not exclusive to Indian rivers, there are three factors that make the Ganga Basin particularly challenging and unique: population density, agriculture, and monsoons. Not only is the basin one of the most densely populated basins in the world, with over 500 million people dwelling within it, but it remains agriculturally productive and undergoes dramatic changes every year due to immense amounts of precipitation during the southwest monsoon. Rather than attempt to take on the basin in its entirety, this project looks at the ways in which the naala interfaces with these three factors and is a major point source of pollution within the basin today.
This multi-disciplinary project takes a two-prong approach. First, developing new methods of measuring and mapping naalas is crucial. This will involve mapping and categorizing the spectrum of morphologies of naalas across the basin, but also documenting adjoining land parcels and mapping larger catchment areas. From this mapping we will compile a taxonomy of naala types in the states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. From this taxonomy we will identify five naalas that confront many of the issues facing the Ganga basin in terms of pollution abatement and rejuvenation. Second, building on the mapping techniques and the categories, we will then develop new prototypes for how and where to develop new forms of civic infrastructure along a naala. These infrastructures must incorporate the dynamism of the monsoons and development pressures facing second and third tier cities across the basin. They might include, but are not limited to, new parks and bioswales or incorporating agriculture and bioremediation. For this project, we will need participants with expertise in hydraulic engineering, soil science, GIS (particularly with experience in riparian systems), permaculturalists with familiarity with bioswales and wetlands, anthropologists, and machine learning engineers.
Anthony Acciavatti is the inaugural Diana Balmori Assistant Professor at Yale University. He is the author of Ganges Water Machine: Designing New India’s Ancient River (2015), which is the first comprehensive mapping and environmental history of the Ganges River Basin in over half a century. Begun at a moment in time when detailed satellite imagery of the Ganges was difficult to obtain, Acciavatti spent nearly a decade crisscrossing the basin by foot, boat, and car. He designed new instruments to map soils and document the choreography of temporary cities and the periodicity of the monsoons.