Two rivers granted human rights in effort to boost water conservation

Posted 28 March 2017

Whanganui RiverNew Zealand's Whanganui River has pipped India's Ganges to become the world's first river to be granted the same legal rights as a human being. 

On March 16 the Māori tribe of Whanganui won a 140-year battle to have a waterway awarded legal status as a living entity.

“The reason we have taken this approach is because we consider the river an ancestor and always have,” said the lead negotiator for the local tribe, Gerrard Albert. 

“We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it – as an indivisible whole – instead of the traditional model for the past 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”

The country's third longest river has been appointed two guardians to protect its interests, granted NZ$80 million in financial redress and will have a NZ$30 million fund established to improve water conservation and health.

Four days after New Zealand's parliament passed the bill, the high court in India's northern Uttarakhand state ruled that the Ganges had the same legal rights as human beings. 

“It means now Ganga and [its longest tributary, the Yamuna river] will be treated like a natural person, but only through a designated person,” advocate MC Pant told the Hindustan Times

It was hoped the ruling would aid efforts to clean up the Ganges river, which is believed to be choked by one billion gallons of waste every day.

However, an environmental activist fighting for the cleanup of the Yamuna river, Vimlendu Jha, said the ruling alone would not improve things.

“Merely announcing that it is a living entity will not save the river," Jha told the Associated Press

“The state government, officials and citizens need to act to clean up the river and stop further pollution. The two rivers have to be fixed, or we will face a huge ecological and health crisis.”