Ecuadorean acvtivists demonstrate for a clean Machángara River

Activists demand protection for the Machángara River outside a courthouse in Quito, Ecuador on May 28, 2024.

(Photo: Inty Grønneberg/X)

'Historic Victory': Ecuadorian Judge Rules Pollution Violates River's Rights

The court ordered the city of Quito to clean up the Machángara River, citing the rights of nature enshrined in Ecuador's Constitution.

Environmentalists around the world this week cheered what they called a "historic" ruling by an Ecuadorian court that human-caused pollution violates the rights of a river running through the capital city of Quito.

Responding to an application for a protective action filed by the Kitu Kara Indigenous people, a Quito judge on Friday found that municipal authorities are responsible for violating the Machángara River's rights and ordered officials to devise a decontamination plan.

The city of Quito said it will appeal the ruling. Mayor Pabel Muñoz said last week that an approved cleanup plan for the Machángara, which includes new water treatment plants, would cost $900 million and take 17 years to complete, according toLa Hora.

An editorial in El Comercio called the ruling a "significant step forward in defending the rights of nature" and "a milestone in the fight for environmental preservation in Ecuador."

"The recognition of the Machángara River as an entity with its own rights goes beyond considering it a mere natural resource," the editorial asserted. "This progress means that the river now has legal protection, and the authorities have an obligation to ensure its health and well-being."

Kitu Kara organizer Darío Iza said in a statement that "this is historic because the river runs right through Quito, and because of its influence, people live very close to it."

Quito must now implement a comprehensive wastewater treatment plan to reduce the discharge of pollutants into the river, restore riverbanks, and replant vegetation in degraded areas. The city of more than 2 million inhabitants has long used the Machángara—whose source is high in the Andes Mountains—as a dump, a problem exacerbated by a lack of adequate wastewater treatment infrastructure.

"It is alarming what happens with the Machángara because it should be full not of bacteria and chemicals, but of animal and plant life."

"The river carries away tons of garbage that comes down from gullies and hillsides," Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature said on social media. "This decision represents a breakthrough in the protection and decontamination of one of the most vulnerable rivers in the country."

Experts have likened the section of the Machángara running through Quito to a sewer in a Paris-sized city. The river is contaminated with heavy metals, fats, detergents, oils, bacteria, fecal matter, and a wide array of chemical pollutants.

"It is alarming what happens with the Machángara because it should be full not of bacteria and chemicals, but of animal and plant life," Blanca Ríos, an ecologist who has studied the river for 20 years, toldPrimicias on Tuesday.

Ecuador—one of the world's most biodiverse nations—is one of just a handful of countries to enshrine rights of nature in its constitution. Previous court rulings, including a 2021 decision against mining in the Amazon Rainforest and an earlier block on dumping in the Vilcabamba River, have upheld this right.

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