On September 24, 2017 we celebrate World Rivers Day, a day intended to highlight the value of rivers and encourage improved stewardship of rivers around the world.
Based on the success of BC Rivers Day, which has been celebrated since 1980, the United Nations, in conjunction with the Water for Life Decade, established World Rivers Day in 2005. Today this is celebrated around the globe by millions of people from more than 70 countries.
Globally, rivers provide a source of food, water and power, are used as an artery for the transportation of goods and people, act as natural filters for water purification, provide a home for many ecosystems and offer a wide variety of recreational uses.
Rivers around the world are currently facing an array of threats, the main ones being:
Physical alterations of river flow
Excessive water abstraction
Dam construction and straightening or deepening of river courses disrupts natural flooding cycles causing wetlands to drain and riparian habitats to be inundated. Deforestation further adds to this destruction of habitats and natural flood control. This habitat destruction has led to a 50% decline in species populations since 1970. Excessive pumping for agricultural, industrial and domestic use can lead to dried up river beds and wetlands, while runoff from these users can pollute these same rivers making the water unfit for consumption or habitation and leading to more toxicity in the food chain. Changes in rainfall and weather patterns, attributed to climate change, are further impacting the world’s rivers. The loss of many wetlands and river courses has led to Increased flooding, costing billions of dollars in damage to infrastructure, loss of livelihoods and even loss of life. These floods in turn lead to the further increase in sediment content and degradation of the river water quality.
Rivers must be managed sustainably realizing that any actions taken will have intensified reactions downstream. Wise choices about resource use can help maintain dynamic living ecosystems impacting many communities further along the river course who rely on the river for their way of life. Rivers provide power for hydroelectric plants, diverse habitats for plants and animals, a source of food and water as well as varied recreational opportunities.
Rivers serve as major transportation routes worldwide offering inexpensive movement of people and goods with some areas practically inaccessible by any other means. When river courses dry up or are severely reduced their use as thoroughfares can be lost.
On this World Rivers Day, events are planned around the globe to highlight the issues and engage people in the conservation of local rivers. A listing of planned events is available at the World Rivers Day website. We would encourage everyone to take part in the global celebration of the environmental, social and cultural impact of our rivers.