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International Day of Action For Rivers: Lifelines of our planet

Today, March 14, marks a global mobilization to protect the future of all rivers across the planet. The International Day of Action For Rivers is a call to action for communities around the world to come together with a shared mission: to raise awareness about the critical importance of rivers. 

Why we must act

The alarming rate at which pollutants are being dumped into rivers is not only a grave environmental concern but also a public health crisis. Contaminated water sources lead to the spread of diseases, destruction of ecosystems, and loss of biodiversity. 

The economic repercussions are equally dire, affecting agriculture, fisheries, and tourism industries. Therefore, the International Day of Action For Rivers serves as a critical platform for advocating sustainable practices, stricter regulations on waste disposal, and the restoration of river ecosystems.

History of the International Day of Action For Rivers

The International Day of Action For Rivers was established by the concerted efforts of various organizations that understood the profound importance of rivers and the growing threats they face. 

It all started in September 1995 when notable entities like the International Rivers Network, India’s Save the Narmada Movement, Chile’s Biobio Action Group, and the European Rivers Network convened in Brazil. The gathering laid the foundation for what would become a global movement.

An international organizing committee was established, led by Brazil’s Movement of People Affected by Large Dams. The collaboration signified a pivotal moment in the fight for river conservation. 

In March of 1997, during the First International Meeting of People Affected by Dams held in Curitiba, Brazil, the participants unanimously adopted March 14 as the International Day of Action Against Dams and For Rivers, Water, and Life. 

This decision was more than symbolic; it was a commitment to promoting a global dialogue and taking clear steps towards sustainable river management and conservation.

The importance of rivers

Rivers are the lifelines of our planet. They provide essential resources for human survival, including water for drinking, irrigation, and sanitation. 

Beyond their practical uses, rivers hold significant cultural, spiritual, and recreational value for communities worldwide. 

Yet, despite their indispensable role, rivers face unprecedented threats from pollution, dam construction, climate change, and overexploitation.

River pollution

The pollution of rivers is a critical environmental issue that has far-reaching consequences for ecosystems, human health, and economies, especially in developing countries. 

More than 80% of sewage in these regions is discharged untreated into rivers and other bodies of water, leading to significant pollution. This situation arises due to several factors, including inadequate infrastructure, lack of financial resources, and insufficient regulatory frameworks to manage waste effectively.

Untreated sewage 

Untreated sewage contains a wide range of pollutants, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemical contaminants. These pollutants can cause serious health issues in humans, including waterborne diseases like cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever. 

They also disrupt aquatic ecosystems, leading to decreased biodiversity, altered habitats, and the death of fish and other aquatic organisms.

Agriculture and fisheries 

The pollution also affects agriculture and fisheries, which are critical sources of food and income for many people in developing countries. 

Contaminated water used for irrigation can affect crop quality and safety, while polluted rivers can decimate fish populations that communities rely on.

Addressing river pollution 

Addressing this challenge requires a multifaceted approach. It includes investing in sewage treatment facilities, promoting sustainable waste management practices, and implementing strict regulatory measures to ensure that industrial and residential waste is treated before being discharged. 

Public awareness campaigns can also play a significant role in changing behaviors and encouraging community involvement in river conservation efforts.

Why are rivers important?

Rivers are fundamental to both ecosystems and human societies. The preservation and sustainable management of river ecosystems are crucial for maintaining biodiversity, ensuring water security, and supporting human livelihoods.


Rivers are home to a wide variety of plants and animals. They provide critical habitats for numerous species, many of which are aquatic and depend on river ecosystems for their survival. Rivers also serve as migration routes for fish and birds.

Freshwater supply

Rivers are a crucial source of freshwater for drinking, bathing, and other domestic uses. More than half of the world’s population relies on freshwater from rivers and lakes for their daily water supply.


Rivers supply the water necessary for irrigation, which is essential for growing crops. This is particularly important in arid and semi-arid regions where rainfall is not sufficient to support agriculture.

Energy production

Many rivers are used to generate hydroelectric power, which is a renewable energy source. Dams built on rivers help in generating electricity, managing water resources, and providing flood control.


For thousands of years, rivers have been used as transportation routes. They facilitate the movement of goods and people, connecting cities and countries, and playing a vital role in trade and economic development.

Cultural and recreational activities

Rivers have significant cultural, spiritual, and recreational importance. Many communities have historical and cultural ties to rivers, and they are often central to rituals, literature, and art. Rivers also offer recreational opportunities such as fishing, boating, and swimming.

Economic development

Beyond agriculture and transportation, rivers contribute to economic development through tourism, fishing industries, and water-intensive industries. They are pivotal in shaping the economic landscape of regions around the world.

Nutrient cycling

Rivers play a key role in transporting nutrients from land to the ocean. This nutrient flow supports aquatic life forms and contributes to the overall productivity of riverine and marine ecosystems.

Climate regulation

Large river systems can influence regional climates. For example, evaporation from the surface of rivers contributes to rainfall patterns in surrounding areas.

Fascinating rivers around the world

Rivers are the cradles of civilization and have nurtured human societies for millennia. Here are facts about some of the world’s most fascinating rivers:

The Nile River

Often cited as the longest river in the world, the Nile extends over about 6,650 kilometers (4,130 miles). It flows northward through northeastern Africa, draining into the Mediterranean Sea. Its length and historical significance to ancient civilizations make it a subject of continuous fascination.

The Amazon 

Competing with the Nile for the title of the world’s longest river, the Amazon is by far the largest by water flow, with an average discharge greater than the next seven largest rivers combined. 

It’s also considered to have the largest drainage basin in the world. The Amazon is home to a staggering array of wildlife, including species that are yet to be discovered.

River Under the Sea

The Cenote Angelita in Mexico has a submerged river. It’s an underwater river, complete with trees and leaves flowing on the sea floor, caused by a layer of hydrogen sulfide separating the freshwater at the top from the saltwater below.

The Congo River

This river’s depths have been measured at 220 meters (720 feet), making it the deepest river in the world. It’s also unique due to its “reversed” flow; the Congo River flows into and out of lakes, and it has sections with different directions of flow due to the Earth’s tilt.

Bioluminescent rivers

Certain rivers, like the Mosquito Bay in Puerto Rico, glow in the dark. This is due to bioluminescent microorganisms in the water that emit light when disturbed, creating a stunning natural phenomenon.

The Mississippi River

Historical evidence and geological studies suggest that the Mississippi River has changed its course significantly over thousands of years, carving out different paths across North America.

The Danube

Europe’s second-longest river, flows through 10 countries, more than any other river in the world. It has major historical and cultural significance for the regions it traverses.

Living rivers

Some rivers are legally considered “living entities.” For instance, the Whanganui River in New Zealand has been granted legal personhood, recognizing it as an ancestor to the Maori people and protecting its interests.

Joining forces for change

Ultimately, the health of our rivers reflects the health of our planet. The success of the International Day of Action For Rivers hinges on the participation of communities all over the world. 

There are many ways in which individuals and organizations can contribute to forge a united front against the challenges facing our rivers.

On this day, enthusiasts conduct workshops, seminars, and activities to celebrate this day to raise awareness and spread the message. Learn more about how you can get involved at


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