Rivers Gain Legal Protection from Misuse
Several countries are ensuring their rivers can gain legal protection, a move akin to treating them as people, which could help nature more widely.
So Old Man River is getting a day in court: a growing international initiative is seeing to it that rivers gain legal protection against pollution and other forms of exploitation, in a move which insists that they have rights just as people do.
There are hopes that protecting rivers (and one lake) in this way could in time be extended to living species and to other features of the natural world.
The first river to win this legal safeguard is the Whanganui in New Zealand, which in March 2017 gained recognition as holding rights and responsibilities equivalent to a person. (The country had in 2014 already granted legal personhood to a forest.) The river – or rather, those acting for it – will now be able to sue for protection under the law.
The Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 recognizes the river and all its tributaries as a single entity, Te Awa Tupua, which has rights and interests and is the owner of its own river bed. The river can both sue and be sued. The Act also acknowledges the river as a living whole that stretches from the mountains to the sea.
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