Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Rivers, Lakes, Seas, and Environmental Justice

Posted 22 Jul 2015 / 0

National GeographicSins of the Aral Sea

National GeographicLast Rites for the Jade Sea?

These recent National Geographic issues both feature articles on threatened bodies of water and the role that over-exploitation of feeder rivers plays in these threats. In both the case of the Aral Sea, which has already been largely ‘disappeared’ by poor water management, and Lake Turkana, which is under threat from new dam and irrigation projects, there are clear winners and losers in this war over water. Upstream, water is being used to turn deserts into farms, allowing people to thrive where they historically could not. Downstream, the diverse economies that thrive around large bodies of water are under threat, as it is now technologically possible for people to remove so much water from the rivers (especially in desert climates!) that huge seas and lakes can literally dry up.

This is not just a biodiversity conservation issue for these aquatic ecosystems: there is also a profound issue of environmental justice to be considered in this case. When streams have fed critical bodies of water for thousands of years, what responsibility do upstream users have to downstream users to preserve river flow? This is a question that is largely not being dealt with, and as a result both ecosystems and the people who depend on them are suffering.

A Minor Post, Anthropogenic Change, Articles, Deserts, Environmental Justice, Freshwater Ecosystems, Habitat Destruction, Marine Ecosystems, Water Supply

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