Winner of the Whitley Award donated by The Shears Foundation
Eugene Simonov is a Russian environmentalist who literally crossed an entire continent to help create a network of stakeholders interested in river conservation along the Chinese and Mongolian borders, where dam building on a monumental scale threatens fragile wetland ecosystems in the birthplace of the legendary Genghis Khan.
The Amur River basin is the largest still free flowing transboundary river system of Asia and is internationally recognised for the importance of its migratory fish and floodplain wetlands, of which 17 are designated Ramsar sites. Millions of waterbirds breed or migrate along mighty rivers with wide floodplains sustained by monsoons, while in periodic droughts semi-nomadic herders bring their livestock into river valleys and lake shores, where they compete for space with cranes and geese. Known as Black Dragon River, the Amur River is also home for the largest sturgeon and salmon in the world (Kaluga and Siberian Taimen respectively).
In 2009 Simonov was instrumental in the foundation of the Rivers without Boundaries Coalition (RwB) by NGOs from Russia, China, Mongolia and USA to campaign for the protection of the free flowing transboundary rivers of north Asia as scarce and precious natural resources, not to be wasted just for power generation but used for conservation and multifaceted sustainable development. Large hydropower construction projects pose the greatest threat, with freshwater ecosystem biodiversity disappearing at a much faster rate than their terrestrial or marine equivalents.
Despite widespread questioning of whether hydropower on this scale is actually a renewable and clean energy source, large-scale dam building to support domestic energy and export trade continues to be planned by Chinese, Russian and Mongolian governments, despite local opposition and the environmental damage it will cause to fragile ecosystems. Simonov and his associates continue to successfully challenge ill planned investment proposals using advocacy to foster dialogue on alternatives. Simonov believes that his task is to promote methods for discerning bad projects from the worst when it comes to water infrastructure development and to advocate effectively for clear and strict limits for allowable change agreed for each river basin. In this way the RwB Coalition is uniting citizens from transboundary regions in one movement, so that they can better protect themselves and access the best available knowledge and assessment techniques.
Eugene’s Whitley Award winning project aims to:
- Provide stakeholders with tools to assess hydro projects and the means to minimise impact.
- Safeguard two rivers from damming and use these as case studies in Asia.
- Develop a multi-lingual, information based approach to support cooperation between countries.
Why it matters:
- 17 wetlands in the Amur basin are Ramsar sites of International Importance.
- The Amur River is home to the critically endangered Kaluga, the world’s largest sturgeon, and the world’s largest salmon, the taimen.
- Freshwater biodiversity is disappearing at a faster rate than terrestrial or marine equivalents.
Project Update: 2018 Continuation Funding
Keeping rivers free and wild in the era of “Belt and Road.”
£70,000 over two years
Eugene Simonov and the Rivers without Boundaries coalition (RwB), formed by 35 members, are protecting transboundary rivers in multiple countries such as Russia, China, Mongolia, and most recently expanding into Central Asia (Irtysh, Balkhash and Aral Basins). Freshwater biodiversity is disappearing faster than terrestrial or marine species populations and habitats, with unsustainable and poorly planned development of water infrastructure among the leading causes for degradation of aquatic ecosystems.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken with implications for massive river alteration at the scale of transboundary basins. The BRI presents an international development opportunity and it is vital that it is implemented in a way that takes the environment into account. As BRI policies are currently under formation, now is the critical time to advocate for sustainable development. Continuation Funding will enable Eugene and RwB to continue to oppose unsustainable and irreversible destruction of key freshwater habitats, whilst introducing alternative energy options and pathways into transboundary water policy dialogues and encourage green investment from financiers. Delivery of this momentous project will impact the global agenda by setting the standard for clean development.