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'Great news': Ecuador river is granted the right to not be polluted in historic court case

The river runs through Ecuador's capital, Quito.
The river runs through Ecuador's capital, Quito. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Angela Symons with APTN
Published on Updated
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A court has ruled that pollution violates the rights of a river that runs through Ecuador's capital, Quito.


In an unusual ruling, a court in Ecuador ruled on Sunday that pollution has violated the rights of a river that runs through the capital, Quito.

The city government appealed the ruling, which is based on an article of Ecuador’s Constitution that recognises the rights of natural features like the Machángara River.

Activists who filed the complaint said Sunday the decision is “historic”.

“This is historic because the river runs right through Quito, and because of its influence, people live very close to it,” says Darío Iza, whose group Kitu Kara filed the complaint on behalf of the river.

The court ruled that while appeals proceed, the government will have to come up with a plan to clean up the Machángara.

Why does the Machángara need saving?

The city of 2.6 million people dumps all sorts of effluents and contaminants into the Machángara, which starts high in the Andes mountains. But by the time it runs through Quito, it encounters problems such as a near-total lack of treatment of the wastewater that is dumped into it.

“The river carries away tonnes of garbage that comes down from gullies and hillsides,” according to the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN).

The river has average levels of 2 per cent oxygen, which makes it difficult for aquatic life to thrive.

In some parts of Latin America and North America, inhabitants have Constitutional rights to a clean environment, but Ecuador is one of the few countries that recognise the rights of natural features not to be degraded or polluted.

‘Historic victory’ for the Machángara river

Environmental groups have celebrated the news, with GARN posting on Instagram: “Historic victory for #RightsofNature: The Machángara River in Ecuador is declared a subject of rights!”

“This decision represents a breakthrough in the protection and decontamination of one of the most vulnerable rivers in the country,” the group added.

“The municipality has been declared responsible for rights violations and must now establish a specific plan for the decontamination of the Machángara River, following the Monjas River ruling, including concrete measures and ensuring active community participation.”

A spokesperson from environmental NGO CEDENMA added, "Today we celebrate great news: the Machángara River in Ecuador has been recognized as a subject of rights and its restoration has been ordered. We dream of a clean, mint-smelling river, as it once was."

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