From the Tigris to the Indus and the Yangtze to the Nile, rivers were essential to the emergence of human civilization. Millenniums later, hundreds of millions of people still depend on rivers to quench their thirst, grow food, and make a living. And yet we are rapidly destroying the planet’s river systems, with serious implications for our economies, societies, and even our survival.

China is a case in point. Its dam-building frenzy and over-exploitation of rivers is wreaking environmental havoc on Asia, destroying forests, depleting biodiversity, and straining water resources. China’s first water census, released in 2013, showed that the number of rivers — not including small streams — had plummeted by more than half over the previous six decades, with over 27,000 rivers lost.

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