River chief system in China

To better water protection

written by Liu Zhuo

There are numerous rivers and lakes in China, including a total of 45,203 rivers with a catchment area above 500,000 square kilometers and 2,865 natural lakes with a perennial surface area above one square kilometer.

China has a long history of water control and management. In ancient times, the administrators appointed special officials in charge of river affairs. During the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) governor of Shu prefecture, Li Bing ordered the building of the Dujiangyan Irrigation System in today’s Sichuan province in Southwest China, which is a famous example of water conservancy and could be regarded as the precursor of the river chief system.

Dujiangyan irrigation system

With the rapid economic and social development, some new issues have occurred in management and protection of rivers and lakes in China: the emissions of pollutants into rivers and lakes remain high in some areas, while encroachment of river courses, reclamation of lakes and illegal sand mining often occur in some places.

Water pollution

To solve the problems, in some areas, government leaders at the four levels – province, prefecture, county and township – serve as river chiefs, and the province level is led by general river chiefs, to manage, protect and govern rivers through inter-agency coordination and cooperation.

On the basis of the practice of some provinces/autonomous regions/municipalities in the last ten years, in December 2016, the General Office of the CPC Central Committee and the General Office of the State Council promulgated the opinions on the All-Around Implementation of the River Chief System. By the end of 2018, the River Chief System will be implemented all around for rivers and lakes nationwide, with providing an institutional guarantee to maintain the healthy life of rivers and lakes and to achieve their sustainable use.

The river chief system today is a management system for rivers and lakes and is linked to the accountability system of environmental protection and performance evaluations of top officials. River Chief is the first person responsible for river management, and his/her main duty is to urge the river chiefs at the lower level and relevant agencies to complete the ecological protection tasks of rivers and to coordinate to solve major issues in river protection and management.


Combating soil erosion in Kigezi: (Un)Gifted by Nature?

written by Alfred Ahimbisibwe

Kigezi is a beautiful region of Uganda also known as the Switzerland of Uganda due to its high mountains and cold conditions. It is a densely populated region with a population density of 314 persons/km2. It has an annual food crop agricultural system where farmers open up gardens every rainy season to grow their crops. Unlike other mountainous areas of Uganda, the hills of Kigezi have deep soils suitable for crop production, nature’s special gift to the people. The hills are terraced as mitigation against severe soil erosion.

Rapid population growth has increased pressure on land and families have heavily fragmented their land by subdividing their holdings. This has led to continuous cropping and with intense rains as a result of climate change, soil erosion from these agricultural areas has reached alarming levels. Farmers lose their crops, livestock, lands and property and in worst cases, lives are lost as people are washed away by landslides. Also, as a result, rivers are heavily silted and their waters unsuitable for household use.

Concerted effort is therefore needed to control the rate of soil erosion and restore these hillsides into the productive areas they were not long ago. The interventions available require the participation of every landowner to be effective, and this is a huge task to get everybody to participate. Investment in engineering structures of the steeper hills is also required, and this necessitates external support because the communities cannot afford the costs of establishment of these structures.

What was previously viewed as an exceptional gift by nature, now is a cause for worry for people who live in these highlands. Whenever the rainy season starts, it becomes a matter of when the heavy rains will sweep away the fields. Is Kigezi now ungifted by nature?

Picture 1: Cultivation extends to the top of the hills (Photo Credit: World Agroforestry Centre)

Picture 2: Excessive soil erosion in Kabale District (Photo Credit: Uganda Red Cross)

New Delhi: Grey Capital of Colorful India

written by Dhruv Verma

Once known for its rich cultural heritage and diversity, New Delhi, the capital city of India has now earned an unenviable acclamation of being one of the world’s most air polluted city.

Air pollution has always been a problem in cities, since modern era industrialization. The Donora smog disaster (1948) and the London killer fog (1952) are few of the infamous anthropogenic hazards. In New Delhi, being the center of the nation having thrust on economic development, policies and a framework governing the state of the environment became trivial. Recently, in the city the problem of air pollution escalated due to cumulative impacts of traffic menace, large-scale construction, industrial emissions, insufficient public infrastructure and crop residue burning in neighboring provinces. In winter season, it worsens because of stagnant winds, fog and firecrackers burning. In 2017, the city and its surrounding areas cripple under a thick film of smog as the air quality readings were recorded 30 times of the World Health Organization’s recommended safe level. Burning sensation in eyes, headache and sore throat are few of the ill effects of air pollution. It was reported that breathing in the city is equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. The air quality deteriorated to such an extent that government declared a public health emergency and asked vulnerable people to avoid coming out of their houses and use pollution masks like N95.

So, what is the solution? Pollution is not a matter of air and environment only, it is a matter of fundamental rights and wellbeing of citizens and national pride. Hence the role of policy makers, judiciary, industries, technical institutions, civil agencies, non-environmental sectors and involvement of people in addressing the problem is crucial. Besides strict implementation of environmental rules and regulations, education and self-driven responsibility to protect the environment is equally important to address this over-arching problem.


Phnom Penh Capital, from an abandoned city to a prosperous place to live

written by Chandara Yem

The kingdom of Cambodia is a one of the oldest countries located in Southeast Asia. With a rich and old history, the capital city was changed from time to time. Phnom Penh is currently the capital city of the kingdom, and it is where I am originally from. Within a strategic location, Phnom Penh City is not only the capital, but it is also the center of political, culture, tourism and commercial hub with a population of 1,876,000 inhabitants (Phnom Penh Population, 2018).

Phnom Penh was a well-developed city during the Sangkum Reastre Niyum period in the 1960s. It was the center of industrialization and an enjoyable city. However, during the genocide era from 1975-1979, Phnom Penh had been abandoned while all people were forced to leave the city. Some infrastructure was destroyed, and it had become a ghost city. After the end of this era, people returned to the city and rebuilt the city.

After the 1993 national election, with a stabilized government and full peace, Phnom Penh has re-opened to the world. Many investments have started while the tourism sector has been growing annually. Phnom Penh has become a major tourist destination in the country where people can easily find and learn about history, culture and Khmer civilization at the same time.

Furthermore, the infrastructure including hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and public spaces has been booming remarkably in the last several years. People in the city have a variety of choices to enjoy time with their families and friends. Phnom Penh has been converted from a silent city to an enjoyable place to live.


If there is a will, there is a way

How awareness raising is changing my life

written by Maksim Makukha

Perhaps my life story thus far is quite common. However, I would like to share how my life experience so far has provided invaluable lessons that have changed my mindset, and how through having a new mindset leads you to new challenges and experiences.

I started out with a pretty normal life plan after high school. I decided to study mechanical engineering and production management at a University; it seemed logical to pursue these fields of study as I already had some practical experience working with metal on my part-time after-classes job. However, while studying at the University, I realized that I did not necessarily want to be a production engineer, but the perfectionist in me told me that I should finish what I started.

After completing my studies at the University, I decided to take a more slow-paced approach to life. I elected to live in a village while also becoming a raw vegan. While living in the village, I began to read a lot of books, namely about ecological topics, such as eco-building, organic farming and permaculture. After experiencing village life for several months, I realized that I didn’t want to live only for a personal benefit, but for the benefit of others as well and help contribute to the betterment of society.

Subsequent to having such a profound realization, I began to detect ‘magic’ in my life. Firstly, by accident, I became an instructor for survival skills at a local scout camp. I realized that I really enjoyed working with children and imparting my knowledge on them. Moreover, this job allowed me to live in the forest while earning an income. What a dream job! Though it was only a part-time job in the summer and I had to find other means of income. While searching for another workplace I realized that if you wish to see a change in the world, you should make it your job.

After working as an instructor for a scout camp, I started working as a trade agent and engineer in a small company that worked with renewable energy. At the time, renewable energy was just entering the market in Ukraine, so the fact that I was able to work with such a company was a very beneficial and interesting experience for me. Then, life took a very bad turn for many people in Ukraine. At the end of 2013, the Revolution of Dignity began and the economy in Ukraine had collapsed, severely devaluing the Ukrainian currency. This was a difficult period for me, and for many people in Ukraine. However, when life closes one door, another one opens. I polished up some old skills and found work as a blacksmith assistant, which I enjoyed doing. After working for a short time in the blacksmith, I decided to move back to my native city, finding a job in an internet shop.

After moving back home, I still thought about how I could make the world a better place. In my free time, my family and I thought we could start by cleaning a nearby forest.

Even though contributing to society by picking up litter, felt good, it was an endless job. Every weekend, we would discover new trash left by local citizens who did not have access to a trash pick-up service. As a result, we decided to install trash containers to ease the amount of litter. Next we spoke to the village council and they agreed to install trash containers. We also found local people to co-fund the installation and management of trash containers and I received a special permission to install containers to collect PET and glass. Alas, we had the first village pilot project of sorting waste! After initiating the pilot project, I began my own small business of collecting valuable, recyclable materials in rural areas; it was a good business because not only did locals learn how to sort waste, but they also profited from disposing such materials to recycling centers.

Around that time, I started to ask myself “how can I change people’s mindset to think in a more eco-friendly way?” I decided to first collect batteries and other hazardous waste with volunteers. From that initiative, local teachers approached me to present the importance of sorting waste, like batteries to their students. From this initiative, a very important project was born: “ChistoTak!” (Clean-up!). Together with volunteers Istarted giving lessons to students of all ages on how to collect and sort materials. ChistoTak! began to expand throughout Ukraine, motivating other people to sort waste along the way. I eventually ended my small sorting business and began working full-time for an NGO, ‘Ekoltava’ that I cofounded together with fellow volunteers.

Now our NGO supports and consults local authorities and businesses on their way to sustainability. I’m growing as a professional together with my organization.

And now, an old dream of mine has come to fruition… studying environmental management in Germany! And life continues to open new and unexpected doors for me.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

The difference we make: People and Nature

Stepping Up – written by Clement G. Tweh

Making a difference for a positive environment may seem fairly difficult but not impossible. There are few people who are willing to participate but heroes are often the first to rise up and go beyond the surface of events. Stepping up is a difficult part especially in a society where the rule of law can be questionable. The different we make: People and Nature reveals a true story of Lee Sworh, a poor villager who lives in the remote forest of south east Liberia. He values the beauty of nature as a symbol of Life and stood in the middle of social injustice to revert the decision of the government of Liberia to give a long term concession of the forest to an Asian oil company.

Due to his willingness to stand up for nature, Lee faced discrimination and oppression form his fellow countrymen but today he is remembered as a hero by many young people for taking the initiative to defend Mother Nature. When I was asked about my views as a Liberian and a conservationist about the sadden situation that Lee Sword faced, this was what I had to say:

Reference:  The Guardian New Paper. (2016). Monrovia, Liberia