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China-proposed river ethics initiative wins support

By Hou Liqiang | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-23 07:30
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International experts have spoken highly of a river ethics initiative that China proposed during the ongoing 10th World Water Forum in Bali, Indonesia, saying that it will help to realize the harmonious coexistence between humans and rivers, many of which have been jeopardized by human activities.

They made the remarks following the unveiling of the report "River Ethics and China's Practices" on Tuesday at the eight-day forum, which concludes on Saturday.

Underscoring river ethics as a new guiding philosophy to deal with the relationship between humans and rivers, the report compiled by the China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research delves into the theoretical logic, the rules of practice and the development path of river ethics in China.

The report hopes that the nation's experiences will prove useful in overcoming the crisis involving rivers worldwide, which is currently challenging global sustainable development.

While unveiling the report, Minister of Water Resources Li Guoying said that in accordance with Xi Jinping Thought on Ecological Civilization and President Xi's perspective on water governance, developing river ethics means treating rivers as living entities and respecting their basic rights for survival and health.

"This perspective necessitates adjusting our values, moral codes, responsibilities and behavioral norms governing the interaction between humans and rivers," Li said, adding that the core objective of a river ethics initiative will be to uphold the harmonious coexistence between humans and rivers.

Cecilia Tortajada, a professor at the United Kingdom-based University of Glasgow's School of Interdisciplinary Studies, expressed her support for the China-proposed river ethics initiative, saying that she believes it will have positive impacts.

Such an initiative will not only improve the water quality in every river in China, but also offer important lessons for other countries, she said.

"Because what you need is the practices, and China is a very big laboratory," Tortajada said. "I have great expectations for this initiative from China, because it's going to be positive for China and also for the world."

Asit K. Biswas, a visiting professor at National University of Singapore's School for Public Policy, said that in the 21st century, when most rivers are overexploited, both in terms of quantity and quality, it is important to note what the ethical requirements are with regard to river management.

Rivers play an important role in people's lives by maintaining the ecosystem and improving people's socioeconomic conditions, so the question is what ethics human beings should have in order to live in harmony with nature, Biswas said.

In March last year, during the 2023 United Nations Water Conference, Li, the minister, proposed that the world should look into river ethics as one of the four important areas of water management.

Biswas said: "I'm glad this is being done, because the river has been mostly a neglected topic. It will be good to have some principles. What are the, let's say, 10 to 14 principles of river ethics, which we human beings should follow, so that rivers can exist in harmony with human beings and nature?"

Slobodan P. Simonovic, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee of the International Conference on Flood Management, said that when discussing river ethics, it is fundamental to adopt a global view that doesn't prioritize humans over rivers, but sees them as interconnected elements of one complex system.

This perspective recognizes that rivers are not merely resources to be exploited for human benefit, but are dynamic ecosystems with their own intrinsic value and rights, he stressed.

"Just as humans have rights, proponents of environmental ethics argue that natural entities like rivers should also have (rights). …This perspective sometimes is referred to as the river rights or the rights of nature," Simonovic said.

"And it recognizes rivers as living entities, deserving legal protection and respect," he added.

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