Global Perspectives on River Conservation: Science, Policy, and Practice

By P. J. Boon; B. R. Davies et al. | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
RIVER CONSERVATION: A GLOBAL
IMPERATIVE
B.R. Davies, P.J. Boon and G.E. Petts

“… I was looking at a river bed. And the story
it told of a river that flowed made me sad to
think it was dead.”

From the song ‘Horse with no name’
by Dewey Bunnell. America


The background
This book has been long in the making. Intended as a sequel to River Conservation and Management (Boon et al., 1992), which sprang from a conference held at York University in 1990, the first discussions for this volume began as long ago as 1994. Its production has not been an easy undertaking, with many problems of selection (authors/coverage/topics), conceptualization, identification of appropriate markets and style and, of course, the editing and writing processes (responsibilities, time frames, correspondence with authors). On the way we have had to overcome many barriers of language, perspectives and size. The result, we hope, is a cooperative statement on humanity’s ‘love—hate’ relationship with that most diverse and globally vital collection of ecosystems that we generally refer to as ‘rivers’.Perhaps, as we enter the new Millennium it is appropriate to take stock, not just of the problems of ‘Y2K’, but also of the effects of ‘Y6G’: that point at which our population reached 6 billion (using computer terminology: 6-giga). In fact, according to recent statements by the United Nations and World Health Organisation, the Y6G mark was passed as we prepared this introduction in October 1999.Ironically, a population of such magnitude will, more than likely, cause far less general concern than Y2K itself, although its arrival is far more significant in ecological terms. The stresses on global resources are already legion, but that most precious of resources – fresh, potable water – provided in the main by the rivers of the planet, is in our opinion the most crucial of all. In this context, the pages of this book contain a myriad facts and figures that lead one to the inevitable conclusion that all is not well; far from well.Carving the landscape over aeons, much more even than the seas and oceans of the world, rivers are the single most important entities influencing the topography and geomorphology of the planet. Rivers have also been an integral part of human development throughout history. As Davies and Walker (1986) point out, earliest recorded civilizations sprang up along watercourses: they provided irrigation, drinking water, a means of transport for fledgling commercial and economic development, as well as food in the form of sustainable fisheries. They have also formed convenient political boundaries, created obstacles to expansion, and provided defence to communities threatened by militaristic neighbours. Many cultures revere rivers and have woven a series of mythologies around them, giving them personae, moods and human traits. Yet the same human communities that have relied so much on rivers have an ambivalent approach to them. The dual emotions of fear of their dynamics coupled with greed for resources have led to massive exploitation and abuse:
over-consumption of water and biota
manipulation of natural droughts and floods
organic and industrial pollution on varying but often very large scales

-xi-

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