Rivers Unite Us On March 14

Emily Jovais

Denise, Monoj, Sheikh, Haidy, Nadeem, Pedro, Johanna, Qurat, Lindu – these are the names of some of the partners who I had the privilege of connecting with in preparation for the 17th annual International Day of Action for Rivers on March 14

Peter Harmann leads a group in Patagonia, Chile to protect the Rió Cuervo
Peter Harmann leads a group in Patagonia, Chile to protect the Rió Cuervo

“The Day of Action for Rivers provides proactive, positive, inspiring proof that our issues are not merely isolated and local, but global in scope.” Nothing illustrates this more clearly than a quick look at the names of some of the groups who participated this year. They include the Indus River Consortium, Grand Riverkeeper Labrador, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Tabasara Libre, El Kolectivo, Río Cobre Libre, Riverine People, Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative, the Mountaineers Club of Qaemshahr, the Albanian Rafting Federation, the Peoples' Movement for Subansiri Brahmaputra Valley, Rivers Without Boundaries Coalition, Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens, Save the River Nile, the Mapithel Dam Affected Villagers Organization, Futaleufú Riverkeeper, Friends of Lake Turkana, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), Iran Mountain Watch, Movimiento Mexicano de Afectad@s por las Presas y en Defensa de los Ríos, and Patagonia Sin Represas – to name just a few!

A look through the photo gallery or map of actions demonstrates that in every corner of the globe, people are joining together to protect the rivers they love. One group who participated this year, Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT), in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, said it best – for them, “every day is day of action for rivers.” This rings true for all the communities and organizations that celebrated March 14. While we highlight our commitment to rivers in honor of this important day, every day people around the world are taking action to protect their rivers and dedicating their lives in defense of these vital lifelines. 

Cataloguing the events for Day of Action for Rivers gave me just a glimpse into the incredible work being done around the world. I was left with an enormous amount of gratitude to those who are educating students, leading movements, speaking out to their governments, cleaning up rivers, drafting legislation and manifestos, peacefully protesting, and honoring rivers through ceremony and prayer. Seeing the strength and breadth of this movement gives me tremendous hope that together our voices will be heard – and they already are. With over 100 actions recorded, we brought our theme, #RiversUniteUs, to life. 

Belo Monte construction workers show their support to those affected by the dam
Belo Monte construction workers show their support to those affected by the dam
Photo Courtesy of MAB

While I'm not able to write about each individual action, I found one event that took place in Brazil particularly moving. On March 13, members of the Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB) in Altamira, Brazil organized a blockade on the road leading to the Belo Monte Dam construction site. When buses of Belo Monte construction workers arrived at the blockade, many got out of the bus to join the protesters and show their support for those affected by the dam. Paulino Lury, a coordinator of the MAB event, said, "We appreciate the support of the workers, consider them comrades in the struggle and we are also sympathetic to their cause because they will suffer from Belo Monte as well.” This demonstration of solidarity and unity exemplifies what the International Day of Action for Rivers represents and encapsulates so much of what Day of Action means to me. 

So far, we know that actions took place in 41 countries spanning five continents – the most country participation we’ve had to date. Four countries participated for the first time – Angola, Egypt, Macedonia and Cuba. We received over 60 submissions for the Rivers Are in Our Hands photo project with participation ranging from Kenya, Canada, Pakistan and South Africa. Some of the messages included:

Photo submission from Friends of Lake Turkana
Photo submission from Friends of Lake Turkana for Rivers Are in Our Hands
  • “Rivers run deep in all of us”
  • “Rivers give hope to the hopeless”
  • “We are connected through the flow of rivers”
  • “Healthy rivers mean healthy people”
  • “Save our planet, save our rivers”
  • “Rivers are our heritage” 
  • “Try living without them”
  • “Rivers are our lifelines”
  • “Protect rivers, protect life”

These powerful messages get at the heart of this global movement – protecting rivers means protecting life.

As we move forward, my colleagues and I at International Rivers are brainstorming ways to maintain this level of engagement with global partners throughout the year and are looking for ways to get feedback from partners on how we can further support their work. Stay tuned for a survey and feel free to email your ideas and feedback to dayofaction@internationalrivers.org

In the meantime, we hope you’ll continue to engage with us on our International Day of Action for Rivers Facebook page. Also, it’s not too late to send us your photos - email them to dayofaction@internationalrivers.org

Until next year, may our rivers continue to unite us . . .

Friday, March 21, 2014