Although rivers are utterly important to human life and to the planet Earth, many people take these natural water resources for granted and treat them as if they were open sewers.
There are several causes of river pollution in urban areas and the main contributors to this unfortunate event are the industries, by throwing wastes such as heavy metals and chemicals in the water, and the households that surround a river. It’s not unusual to see people disposing their garbage in rivers or even throwing their house’s sewage in the river water!
Rivers are subjected to plenty of damaging effects when we pollute them. Not only do they lose their beauty, but their water also becomes highly prejudicial to humans and to the animals that live in the water.
In this article, we’re going to show you the 5 most polluted rivers in the world!
List of Most Polluted Rivers
1. Ganges River
The Ganges is certainly one of the most popular rivers in the world. Located in India, it is widely known for being considered sacred by the Hindus who inhabit the region. Its waters are considered to be purifying, thus many people take holy baths in the Ganges, in spite of the high level of water pollution.
The Ganges River flows for over 2,500 km and its basin is over 1,000,000 square kilometers wide. Because of its length and size, the Ganges is heavily inhabited with over 400 million people living in its basin. This extremely high number of people living near the river is one of the causes of its heavy pollution.
Many areas of this river are considered dead zones due to the pollution of the water. The main cause of pollution in the Ganges is domestic waste — its levels of fecal coliforms is way too high for the water to be safe for human or agricultural use —, industrial waste, and the religious traditions that take place in the river each year.
2. Sarno River
The Sarno River, although not as widely known as the Ganges, is just as polluted. Located in Italy, this river passes through the regions of Salerno, Avellino, and Naples. With a length of 24 kilometers, this river is considered to be the most polluted river in the world.
According to sources, the main causes of water pollution in the Sarno River are agricultural and industrial wastes, as well as natural causes such as constant mudslides. Near its source in Mount Sarno, this river is not as polluted and there’s still animal life inhabiting its waters. However, throughout the course of the Sarno, pollution becomes more visible, with some areas of the river being covered in chemical foam and garbage.
3. Yangtze River
The Yangtze River has been a topic of conversation for many years due to its high level of water pollution. Located in China, this river is considered the longest river in Asia — and the third largest in the world — and also one of the most polluted rivers in the world.
At 6,300 kilometers, this river is the longest river to flow in one single country. Because of its length, the Yangtze basin is home to approximately one third of China’s total population. On top of that, it is used for water consumption, irrigation, transportation, industry, and sanitation. Consequently, it is subjected to constant garbage disposal, not only by industries but also by the population.
According to research, there were approximately 35 billion tonnes of garbage flowing into the Yangtze River, and about 1,5 million tonnes of this garbage is carried to the ocean each year! The large amount of pollution found in this important river is caused due to the extremely high number of people who live in its basin and also to agricultural and industrial wastes.
On top of that, the Yangtze is also home to the one of the largest hydroelectric power stations on the planet, which, consequently, disposes of heavy metals into the water. It is known that a large part of the biodiversity of the river has been reduced due to a type of iron barrier in the water that was caused by the hydroelectric station.
4. Mississippi River
Perhaps the most popular river in the country, the Mississippi river is the second-longest river in the United States with approximately 3,700 kilometers. It passes through ten different states, including Mississippi, Louisiana, and Wisconsin.
The fourth-longest river in the world, the Mississippi is also one of the most polluted. This river is part of American culture and history, having witnessed several defining moments in the country’s history. The Mississippi River was originally used by Native Americans for agriculture and subsistence purposes, and, over the years, many other communities have exploited this river as well.
It was only in the 20th century that the river’s pollution became a topic of discussion. The Mississippi River has become the “storage” to countless industrial and agricultural wastes, unfortunately. Many farms direct their runoffs to this river, allowing damaging chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers to flow into the water.
It was estimated that, in 2010, over 10 million pounds of toxic chemicals were dumped into the Mississippi River.
5. Doce River
The Doce river in Brazil used to be one of the most important rivers in the country’s southeast region. With its length of over 850 kilometers, this river was a source of income for several families in the countryside and it was home to many water species. However, a disaster that happened in 2015 changed this river forever.
The Doce river — literally the “Sweet River” — was important not only for agricultural purposes, but also for industrial purposes. It is located in a region of Brazil that is rich in minerals, thus mining activities are extremely common in the Doce basin.
In 2015, a mine dam owned by a company named Samarco collapsed and spilled water, mud, and mining debris down the Doce river. Not only did this disaster kill more than 15 people and leave several others injured, it also polluted the Doce river in such a damaging way that it was no longer possible for the fishermen who lived in the region to continue fishing there. It is estimated that around 40% of the population had to relocate when this disaster happened.
Today, almost five years later, this polluted river still has high levels of toxic chemicals in its water and the wildlife in the region had decreased significantly. It is not known when — or if — the river will return to its previous state.
River pollution is not a problem that affects underdeveloped countries exclusively. Rich countries such as England and Italy also suffer with pollution in their most important rivers. This is mostly due to the fact that a significant portion of the population continues to dispose of their garbage in the nearest rivers and also because industries continue to dump their toxic wastes in rivers.
When the waters are polluted, it is detrimental not only to human health — as there are people who consume river water — but it is also highly prejudicial for the fish and other species that live in the rivers. On top of that, when a river is so polluted that wildlife can no longer inhabit it, the population who depend on activities such as fishing are financially harmed.
However, river pollution is not an irreversible issue! We can do our part in keeping rivers clean by not dumping any kind of garbage in the water and by telling other people to not do it either. If each person who throws their garbage or sewer in rivers stops doing so, we can slowly change the current scenario of our precious rivers!
I hope that this article on most polluted rivers in the world was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Geographical Rankings Page!