The World Celebrated Rivers on March 14

Josh Schott
The Mekong is Not for Sale
The Mekong is Not for Sale
Photo by Pai Deetes/International Rivers

As the International Day of Action for Rivers Coordinator for 2015, I was provided a rare and special opportunity to learn at a personal level about the different struggles of people fighting to protect the rivers that sustain their communities. Discussing actions with participants provided immense insight into their strategies and tactics, as well as the social and cultural contexts of these movements. The work of these organizations is truly humbling. Some of these dedicated organizations include the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens from Brazil, National Association of Professional Environmentalists – Uganda, Forum per il Contratto di Fiume Marzenego Osellino from Italy, No Water No Life New York, No to Jalaur Mega Dam Project from the Philippines, Mekong Watch from Thailand, Mountain Watch of Iran, Movimiento Rios Vivos Colombia, I Love Kampot River from Cambodia, Futaleufu Riverkeeper from Chilean Patagonia, Taller Ecologista from Argentina, Indus River Consortium from Pakistan, Environmental Africa from Kenya, Fidra from Scotland, Paddling with Purpose from Peru, Tillari Biodiversity Research Trust from India, Lebanon Eco Movement, Southwest Environmental Center from New Mexico, the Borneo Project, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), Grand Riverkeeper Labrador from Canada, and Dirt Bag Paddlers Magazine from the US.

The 2015 Day of Action for Rivers photo album and the global events map reveal the same fundamental thread and connection among all of these movements, while highlighting the unique challenges these communities face and the proactive solutions they fight for. They show us that the Day of Action for Rivers is not just a moment or a day, but rather a sustained and relentless global struggle against the Western ideological foundations of “development” that marginalize and destroy the many different cultures and environments of the world.

After the First Meeting of Dam Affected Peoples in Curitaba, Brazil in 1997, participants reported an end to their feelings of isolation in their regional fights against governments, lending agencies, and corporations, as well as a renewed strength they could take back to their communities. It was out of this sentiment that the International Day of Action for Rivers was born. March 14 had been the day of action against dams in Brazil, and so it was proposed to use this date to create the global day of awareness and action for rivers. The Curitaba Declaration that created the Day of Action for Rivers exclaims, “We are strong, diverse, and united and our cause is just… From the villages of India, Brazil, and Lesotho to the boardrooms of Washington, Tokyo, and London, we will force dam builders to accept our demands.”

MAB Mobilize in 25 Brazilian State Capitals
MAB Mobilize in 25 Brazilian State Capitals
Photo Credit: Joka Madruga

While I cannot go into detail about each campaign, I’ll tell you about one example from Brazil. Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB) in Brazil organized a week-long series of actions in 25 Brazilian state capitals to denounce rights violations as a result of dam construction and to demand a National Policy on Rights for People Affected by Dams. Together with other movements and organizations, MAB also denounced the abusive increase in electricity bills and the privatization of the nationalized Brazilian oil company Petrobrás, and called for the workers’ rights reforms. Thousands took to the streets, shut down highways, and occupied government ministries and the corporate headquarters of Electrobras, Norte Energia, and Companhia Estadual de Energia Eletrica. The actions were effective in forcing decision makers to listen to their demands. Organizers were able to meet with the President of Electrobras, the President of the Energy Company of Minas Gerais, the General Secretariat of the President, and other government representatives.

As of today, I know that 125 actions took place in 44 countries spanning five continents, which is the highest rate of country participation in the 18 years of the Day of Action for Rivers’ existence. So many organizations and countries from all over the world participated for the first time as well! We received nearly 60 Rivers are in Our Hands photos with participation from every corner of the globe. Some of the messages include:

  • “Dams are not sustainable or renewable sources of energy.”
  • “Water is life.
  • “Keep rivers free.”
  • “Rivers are the arteries of our planet.”
  • “Yo amo ríos.”

These words of wisdom show that the power to stop short-term greed from steamrolling over the principles of justice, self-determination, and respect for the environment is truly in our hands, and that people take their power to protect our rivers seriously.

Even though this year’s International Day of Action for Rivers was such a remarkable success, the buck doesn’t stop here. We must maintain this level of engagement and ensure that we use this success to embolden our regional and international networks to build a more unified and stronger global movement. There’s always room for improvement and we strongly encourage you to send us your thoughts on how to build upon the success from this year and improve for the next. Please send us your feedback to

Meanwhile, we hope that you’ll continue to show your enthusiasm and excitement from this year by engaging with our Day of Action for Rivers Facebook page. Please send us any photos, videos or updates from your actions to

Until next year, float on and prosper!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015