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Editorial by Erik Orsenna, Chairman

I’ve loved rivers since I was a child…

 

It’s a love that’s never left me. It has even tended to grow stronger with age. Immediately I arrive anywhere, I run to a bridge that lets me see the water passing under it. If only you knew how I pity towns that no river crosses. They might act proud, modern and aloof, but I know they are motherless.

Do you know why I like rivers? For at least five reasons, the five entities that all rivers embody.

Above all, the river is life, since all living beings need water to live.

Then, every river is a path, but a special path, one that progresses.

The river is also a force which asks only to help us to drive mills and the turbines of dams.

The river is a kingdom whose inhabitants are not only fish but legends, too.

Lastly, the river is a mirror. It not only reflects the sky but also the populations it crosses. Tell me what relation you have with your river and I’ll tell you what kind of society you belong to. The Ganges tells the tale of India like the Nile that of Egypt and the Mississippi the southern United States.

Another reason for loving rivers is that each one is unique, with its colours, music, seasons, qualities and faults. I always look for a word that sums each of them up. Thus for the Niger, it would be madness: it is madness to flow due north to confront the Sahara instead of calmly flowing towards the Gulf of Guinea. As for the Yellow River, in northern China, it is violence as its floods were and remain the most lethal.

I’m still hesitating about the Rhone. I need your opinion. Impetuous? Fiery could also do. Did you know that this word has the same origin as ferocious? Yes, there is something of the wild beast in the Rhone.

Different from each other, rivers are nonetheless faced with the same challenges: climate change and rising sea levels, pollutions, unbridled urbanisation, sharing uses, etc. This requires just as many competences to understand them better and improve their management. That is the point of Initiatives for the Future of Great Rivers, an original forum of high level dialogue between rivers to better define their future, and thus our own.

Erik Orsenna
Economist, Member of the French Academy, Chairman of “Initiatives for the Future of Great Rivers”

Video: Erik Orsenna tells us of his experience of the rivers

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