Most of the world’s natural wonders, like mountains and rivers, are highly respected by the people surrounding it. Past civilizations used to even worship their local landscapes. However, today, those rituals are rare. But, now people are finding other ways to honor their community scenery, by giving the landscape human status.
India is the most recent country to offer legal human status to 2 of its rivers: the Ganga and Yamuna. It was decided in March 2017, at India’s high court, that the two rivers are “legal and living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties and liabilities.”
So, what does this mean? Will the river have to pay taxes now? The answer is no, but it will “have” other legal rights. For example, if a person is caught polluting the rivers, he or she can have legal action brought up against them. It will be seen as an equivalent to harming a human being.
India isn’t the only country granting these statuses. New Zealand recently granted the country’s longest river, the Whanganui, a legal status of personhood. The action was decided after the iwi – the local Maori tribe – made a dispute saying the government recognized the river as having its own interests and the tribe could advocate on its behalf, back in the 1870s. BBC reported that “the settlement brought to an end the country’s longest-running litigation.” The bill will also allocate $28 million for the rejuvenation of the river and $75 million in financial redress to the iwi involving historical claims. The country will be represented by a government official and an iwi tribe member.
However, the country leading the way in these radical ideas is Bolivia. A few years ago Bolivia passed the “Law of Mother Earth.” The law redefined its natural resources to be seen as blessings and not as money. The law included 11 rights for nature: “the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.”