Day 1: Turning hot spots into hope spots

By Anna Oposa

My World Water Week kicked off with a seminar entitled, “From source to sea – towards a river to coast and seas connected future.”


The series of talks started with presentations giving an overview of freshwater, coastal, and marine issues. Prof. Jan Lundqvist of SWIMI mentioned that such discussions were important to “close the gap” between fresh and marine water. I was personally narrowing that knowledge gap in my head because I knew very little about freshwater/river issues and had to google terms like “hypoxia.” As someone who graduated with a BA in English and has only been in the field of marine conservation for two years, there’s so much I’ve yet to learn… Although I imagine I would say the same thing 10 or 20 years from now — learning has no expiration date, after all.

It was then followed by a number of case studies from Bangladesh/Ganges; the Danube/Black Sea; Orange-Senqu; Xiamen, China; Irrawady Delta, Myanmar; Benin; and the Tullstorp Stream, Sweden. It seemed that regardless of place and economic status, all these projects had similar challenges: overlapping management, governance, and management frameworks. Funding was also a problem in some, as these projects cost millions of US dollars.

The case studies that struck me the most were those of Bangladesh and Xiamen. I was drawn to the Xiamen case study because they were able to transform the area into a tourism zone through integrated coastal management. Over many years, they initiated projects like mangrove planting, marine functional zoning, and reserving sea space for future uses. It was declared a marine protected area and rare species, like the horseshoe crab, started coming back. Another example that shows how nature takes care of us when we take care of Her.

I was also blown away by the progress of Bangladesh and the Brahmaputra River, a trans-boundary river and one of the major rivers of Asia. I must admit, I felt more than admiration–I was jealous. I sat there listening to Dr. Khondaker Azharul Haq feeling jealous that a country like Bangladesh, a “next level economy,” could make such strides in water conversation.

Brahmaputra River


My mind was back home, in Manila. Just two weeks ago, the capital city of my country was yet again ravaged by another flood brought about by the rains of a tropical cyclone. Massive flooding seems to be an annual event in the Philippines. And no, it’s not just climate change.

On the way back to our hotel, my fellow Filipino delegate Ponce and I had a passionate conversation about the path of our archipelago and our Manila. We contemplated on questions like, “Where did we go wrong?” “How come we never learn?” “What can we do?”

The 25-minute bus ride didn’t yield solutions to our nation’s problems. (It would be really cool if it did!) But I went to bed feeling a little bit more hopeful than yesterday. If Xiamen can do it, so can we. If Bangladesh can do it, so can we.

How? When? With whom?

I don’t know, really. But as Rilke said, we have to try to love the questions themselves and live the questions now. “Perhaps you will then, gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”


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