Water Resource Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental and societal issues. Our student Christopher Honess makes this connection here…

Hydraulics is connected with global, environmental, and socio-cultural issues as well as being a part of water resources.  The article, “How Rains Force Pilgrims to Leave Kumbh Mela Before Schedule”, is reported by the Indian run economic times.indiatimes.com and was issued on February 17, 2013 around 4pm Indian Standard Time.  The article reported heavy rains over the last two days which has caused chaos for the world’s largest gathering.   In Allahabad, India, this year along the banks of the confluence of the three rivers, the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the Saraswati, the Hindus are celebrating Kumbh Mela, a mass pilgrimage to a major river for a bath in the sacred rivers of India.  Kumbh means “pitcher” and Mela means “fair” having to do with the drops of nectar that are believed to fall from the gods after the sea is churned (Wikipedia.org).  This year, the festival is being held in Allahabad where, on the 10th of February, they recorded the “world’s largest human gathering on a single day” with over 30 million devotees taking a dip in the river.  NPR’s Julie McCarthy said “It’s as if the combined populations of Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota showed up at the same place and the same time.”

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Figure 1: Picture taken by Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP and placed on npr.org on February 12, 2013

NPR’s Julie McCarthy describes the festival as “millions of feet shuffling, millions of mantras chanted, countless sales of firewood to ward off the night cold.  Millions of incense sticks will be burned and bells rung in devotional rituals.”  This amazing Hindu festival this year has been somewhat ruined by two incidents: a stampede on the 10th of February killed 38 people and two days of rain have flooded the entire festival.  “Uprooted tents, prolonged power cuts, and water-logged pathways” have disheartened many to the point of leaving for their own safety and to ease their frustration.  The power supply was cut to prevent short circuits and for public safety.  The Kumbh administration has begun to prepare for the massive exodus from the river by deploying hundreds of buses and security to ensure that everything runs smoothly for everyone leaving. 

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Figure 2: Picture taken by AFP and used by gulfnews.com

According to gulfnews.com, the weatherman in Allahabad is predicting more rainfall in the next week along the route of the Ganges River.  The rain so far has caused the rivers to swell reaching the 77 meter water level.  The next official bathings are on February 25th and March 10th, and officials are worried about strong currents.  The water level has risen by 14 meters in the last two days, unusually high for the season.  Also, after a release of a huge amount of water from other towns, irrigation department officials say that water could rise by 25-28 meters by the 19th of February.  

Water resources engineering is considered an interdisciplinary field involving the management of hydrologic and hydraulic systems to reduce any adverse impacts and maximize beneficial impacts.  The hydraulics issue before us is the fact that rain has ruined a great cultural festival.  But this also has many socio-economic and cultural ramifications for future festivals and even for the current one.  As infrastructure improves in India and the event staff prepares for future festivals (which happen once every three years around the country), precautions need to be taken for handling large number of people in a floodplain area.  But people must be kept safe during the current festival.  For the next two bathings, it will be very important that officials have assessed the danger of the river currents and with more rain on its way, public health and sanitation will be extremely important.  For 30 million people to show up on one day to swim in a river is not only a logistical problem, but water resources, hydraulics, and sanitation engineering problem as well. 

References:

Wurbs, R.A., James, W.P., 2002.  Water Resources Engineering. Prenctice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

 

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