Global disparities in river conservation: ‘First
World’ values and Third World’ realities
M.J. Wishart, B.R. Davies, P.J. Boon and C.M. Pringle
The divide between the North and the South, encompassing the developed countries of the First World and those developing or non-developing countries of the Third World, now extends well beyond the socio-economic and political grounds within which it was first conceived. Given that there is often an inextricable link between economic and environmental concerns, and with an increasing global awareness as to the state of the natural environment, the divide between the North and South provides an interesting template upon which to examine the issues and challenges facing the conservation of lotic environments.
In modern terms, conservation has become a rather nebulous and vague concept, reflecting as much about the cultural beliefs of the individual, or the society, as it does the state of the natural environment. Definitions such as those proposed by the World Conservation Union are centred around concepts of utilization of natural resources within a sustainable framework to ensure the prevention of species extinction and the maintenance of ecosystem viability (International
Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, United Nations Environment Programme, and World Wide Fund for Nature – IUCN/UNEP/ WWF, 1991). Irrespective of definition, however, it could be argued that, until recently, the dominant conservation paradigm has been one of preservation, advocating the maintenance of ecosystems in isolation from human populations. With the global population at 5.84 billion in mid-1997, and predicted to increase to 8.04 billion by 2025 (United Nations, 1997), such exclusionary philosophies are becoming increasingly difficult to justify when pitched against the immediate needs of human populations. This is particularly true in the Third World, where the majority of the world’s people without access to waterborne sanitation (>2.5 billion) or safe potable water (1.2 billion in 1990) reside, and where more than 10 million people die annually because of poor sanitation.
Conservation efforts have been directed historically toward terrestrial and, more recently, marine environments, despite the fact that inland aquatic ecosystems represent one of the most diverse and as yet largely undescribed group of environments. The neglect of lotic ecosystems ignores the fact that these