River Guardians

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

In 2015, we began a new series devoted to the people who have shaped – and are still shaping – river movements around the world.

These are our partners, our collaborators and our inspirations – part of the web of activists, thinkers, researchers and dam-affected peoples who are building a living movement to protect rivers and all the life that depends on them. Together, one river at a time, we are making a difference.

Meet the River Guardians

Wang Yong Chen

What Wang Yong Chen has accomplished is truly inspiring. In the early 2000s, Wang and a few other Chinese environmentalists intensified efforts to cancel plans for 13 large dams along the Nu-Salween River in Southwestern China. They won an unprecedented victory when Premiere Wen announced that no construction would occur until better Environmental Impact Assessments could be conducted. 

Carlos Chen

Meet a humble farmer-turned-activist from Guatemala named Carlos Chen. Chen lost his wife and young child in a brutal massacre in the 1980s connected to the construction of the Chixoy Dam. He's the co-founder of the Association for Development for the Maya-Achí Victims of Violence (ADIVIMA), a human rights group dedicated in part to bringing those responsible for the Chixoy massacres to justice.

Latha Anantha

The late Dr. Latha Anantha was an internationally-recognized expert in e-flows – the difficult science of figuring out how much water a river needs – and when it needs it – to both meet human demands and perform its key ecological functions. In India, almost nobody did more than Dr. Anantha to help rivers get their flow back. She passed away, tragically, in 2017.

Rajendra Singh 

Rajendra Singh is a quiet revolutionary with a wry sense of humor. By empowering poor farmers, reviving traditional knowledge and building small rainwater ponds, the Indian activist has brought five rivers and a thousand villages back to life over the past 30 years. 

Mark Dubois

We began our River Guardian series with Mark Dubois, in part because his story is part of the founding mythology of our group. But perhaps more important, we began with Mark Dubois because he embodies the spirit of a river guardian: passionate, committed, knowledgeable – and a bit irreverent.

Betty Obbo

For decades, the soft-spoken Ugandan activist Betty Obbo has brought a dual concern for people and the environment to all her work on behalf of rivers and the environment in her home country. “When we save a river, we save a major part of an ecosystem. We save ourselves as well because of our dependence – physical, economic, spiritual – on water and its community of life.” 

Myint Zaw

In 2015, Zaw was awarded a Goldman Environmental Prize in recognition for the creative and dangerous campaign he waged under Myanmar’s repressive military government to save the Irrawaddy River from a massive destructive dam. International Rivers was honored to host Zaw for a discussion in our offices.

Phil Fearnside

Phil Fearnside is responsible for a more groundbreaking work around reservoir emissions than anyone else. He’s also one of the world’s leading experts on climate change – in 2006, he was the world’s second-most cited scientist on the subject of global warming.


Vimal Bhai

Vimal Bhai is the founder of Matu Jan Sangathan, a collective that has been advocating for rights of communities impacted by large hydropower projects and dams in India’s Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. We had the honor of speaking with him about the history of the movement in the Himalayas.