Step into many major cities of the world, and chances are there will be a river at its heart. Think about the Hudson in New York, the Thames in London, the Danube in Vienna, the Nile in Cairo, the Han in Seoul and so on. But rivers are not just important to big cities. Healthy, vibrant rivers are also critical to rural communities, and many of these smaller rivers particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, are endangered.
That’s where International Rivers comes in. The Berkeley, California-based organization works to preserve and protect the world’s rivers from overdevelopment, misuse and destructive projects. It is also dedicated to giving local citizens the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives.
Protecting the World’s Rivers
International Rivers got its start in 1985. “At the time, there was very little good, credible information about large dam projects, and many communities were fighting these projects alone, with pitifully few resources or information. We have spent over 30 years working with communities to build a movement that’s strong, united, informed and committed,” said Sarah Bardeen, communications director for the organization, who spoke to RewardExpert.
At the outset, the core issue was protecting rivers from destructive dams. But in the three decades since, the organization has expanded into other missions, including lobbying local governments. Bardeen said, “We’re also working with diverse stakeholders to spearhead permanent river protection legislation. Because until a river is permanently protected from development, bad projects never really go away. It’s a shift, but one the founders would recognize as necessary and, I think, hopeful.”
The organization’s focus remains on rivers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Some of the rivers most under threat include the Mekong River, which runs through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. A string of planned dams are threatening the migratory fish and biodiversity of the river, which is critical for the area’s food supply, according to International Rivers. Another area of focus is the Amazon in Brazil, which is also in the midst of a dam boom. The organization even made a film about the building of dams in the Amazon.
How a Traveler Can Help
If you plan on visiting a region with an endangered river, there are multiple ways for travelers to help. According to Bardeen, this includes eating local, organic food, using public transit, visiting ecological resorts and using a reusable water bottle instead of a plastic one. In addition, Bardeen said it’s important to be vocal about your support. “Let your lawmakers know you want them to implement aggressive plans to reduce your country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Tell the airlines you want to see zero emissions planes. Be the first on your block to get an electric car.”
The Work is Never Done
Each year, International Rivers holds an annual charity event, called the International Day of Action for Rivers. It is held every March 14 and grassroots groups all around the globe show their support for the world’s rivers. “When the event started in 1997, we saw just a handful of groups participating. In 2017, we saw over 200 actions in 45 countries. Twenty years later, it’s truly become a global event, and people look forward to it all year,” said Bardeen.
In addition, the organization is closely monitoring the effects of climate change, which may be to blame for rivers drying up in some areas, and flooding in others. Bardeen explained, “The best thing we can do is restore our rivers by decommissioning unneeded dams and giving rivers room to meander, flood and recede. If we do that, we can protect our cities from extreme flooding events, recharge groundwater and allow wildlife to return to them. This will help us, and many other species, weather the worst of climate change.”
Elevate the Conversation
So the next time you’re traveling and staring out over a smooth, beautiful river, remember that the waterway may be critical for someone’s life and livelihood. But also remember that you can do your part to help keep the world’s rivers flowing and teeming with life. As Bardeen noted, “It’s time to elevate the conversation around fresh water and rivers, so we can protect this precious resource for future generations.”