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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Asian rivers top WWF risk list from pollution, climate change

GENEVA (AFP) - Five rivers in Asia serving over 870 million people are among the most threatened in the world, as dams, water extraction and climate change all take their toll, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said on Tuesday.

The Yangtze, Salween-Nu, Indus, Ganges and Mekong-Lancang rivers make up half of the WWF's "top ten" most threatened river basins, which "either already suffer most grievously under the weight of these threats or are bracing for the heaviest impacts," the organisation said.
Also on the list are the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo and La Plata in Latin America, the Danube in central Europe, the Nile-Lake Victoria in Africa and the Murray-Darling in Australia.

"Nearly everybody in the world lives in a river basin and everybody has a contribution to make" to prevent further environmental damage, the director of WWF's Global Freshwater Programme Jamie Pittock told AFP.

The threats facing river basins are varied and interlinked, and require holistic policies rather than efforts that target just one aspect but can end up being counterproductive, he said.
For example, "as governments become concerned about climate change reducing water run-off, they build more dams to store more water, which then results in more water being extracted from the rivers and so builds up more ecological problems," Pittock said.

Many governments are also focusing on hydro-electric power plants as a "clean" source of energy, but this means more dams which stem water flows and kill off fish populations, he added.

The WWF report highlighted water extraction, dams, and climate change as the most wide-ranging threats that will have the most impact on people, though invasive species and pollution also pose serious problems.

This is particularly the case for China's Yangtze river basin, where decades of heavy industrialisation, damming, and huge influxes of sediment from land conversion have made it one of the world's most polluted rivers, the WWF said.

Over-fishing is the main threat facing the Mekong, while dams and infrastructure projects imperil freshwater habitats in the Salween, La Plata and Danube basins, the report added.

Pittock said it is imperative that countries and corporations address these issues, but praised work already, particularly in China.

"China certainly has big challenges, they also have the resources to provide big solutions.
"The Chinese government has been very active globally consulting with a range of experts.

They haven't turned the corner on the ground yet. The policies they're putting in place have the potential to do so very soon," he said.

The WWF official warned of "dire consequences" if the situation is left unchecked, with increasing risk of conflict over access to water, as well as the spread of disease and a fall in nutrition standards.

"In many places people are not familiar with the scale of the problem ... it is critical that people are involved," he urged.
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Workshop set for Khmer Rouge trials in Cambodia

The Asian International Justice Initiative (‘AIJI’), a collaboration between the East-West Center, Hawaii and the War Crimes Studies Center at the University of California, Berkeley will hold a week-long workshop in international criminal law for Cambodian lawyers. The workshop will be held March 26 through 30 in Phnom Penh.

Working with the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Defense Support Section of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (‘ECCC’), the AIJI workshop will primarily provide Cambodian defense counsel with the opportunity to focus on the key legal issues likely to play a central role in the upcoming trials. This will include an intensive overview of the international crimes contained in the ECCC Law, including crimes against humanity (such as murder, extermination, forced labor and deportation, and sexual violence) as well as genocide. The format, developed by the AIJI in close collaboration with the Principal Defender of the ECCC, Rupert Skilbeck, will be interactive and conducted in seminar style, in order to ensure participation from all parties and to foster a close working relationship between the faculty and participants.

David Cohen, director of the War Crimes Studies Center and the AIJI and EWC adjunct senior fellow, will chair the workshop. He will be joined by a distinguished international faculty of individuals with significant experience at other ‘hybrid’ national/international tribunals. Among those joining Cohen are Alan Gutman, former defense counsel at the Special Panel for Serious Crimes in East Timor; and Chief Justice of the Massachusetts State Court of Appeals and former Coordinating Judge at the Special Panels, Phillip Rapoza.

A workshop for the Khmer Rouge trials’ prosecution teams will be conducted by the AIJI in August.

Funding for the workshop comes from a grant to the East-West Center from the British Embassy in Phnom Penh.

The EAST-WEST CENTER is an education and research organization established by the U.S. Congress in 1960 to strengthen relations and understanding among the peoples and nations of Asia, the Pacific, and the United States. The Center contributes to a peaceful, prosperous and just Asia Pacific community by serving as a vigorous hub for cooperative research, education and dialogue on critical issues of common concern to the Asia Pacific region and the United States. Funding for the Center comes from the U.S. government, with additional support provided by private agencies, individuals, foundations, corporations, and the governments of the region.
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