By Charles Bartlett – United Nations Environment Programme
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is developing a collaboration with Rotary International, a global network of 1.2 million neighbours, friends, leaders, and like-minded problem-solvers to tackle river pollution.
As an initial step, a year ago UNEP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Rotary District 9212 which covers Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan on the “Adopt a River for Sustainable Development” initiative. Now the next step is being taken with selected Rotary Clubs and club coalitions receiving funding to begin their programmes with Clean-Up+ projects.
The Adopt-a-River initiative centres around participating Rotary Clubs that identify a local freshwater ecosystem on which to focus their activities, develop a programme strategy on how they will protect, restore and sustain the waterbody, and then carry out projects to enact the strategy.
“We’re looking for a long-term commitment here so the [Rotary] Club can actually function as guardians of these adopted river stretches and that we can work gradually to improve them and address the root causes of the issues that these water bodies are facing,” said Joakim Harlin, head of UNEP’s freshwater unit.
“We need community engagement… We want to make things happen and build also from the local level up,” he added.
The funding was provided for Rotary Club projects selected from a number of high-quality proposals submitted from clubs within Rotary District 9212. The Clean-Up+ project will assist Rotary Clubs to begin the process of restoring the adopted waterways; and provide data on solid waste and plastic in waterways for the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities.
Clean-Up+ is a methodology developed for Adopt-a-River to help Rotary Clubs gain information to develop an effective programme strategy while also engaging the community in a hands-on intervention to restore a waterbody. It involves collection of solid waste from the waterbody and assessment of the type and source of the waste following an internationally recognized methodology.
Rivers are a lifeline of human societies and civilizations. Freshwater ecosystems and their biodiversity provide numerous products and services that are beneficial to society, both directly and indirectly, including: drinking water, water for irrigation, fish and other food, recreation, transport, and water for industrial uses including energy production. Riverine ecosystems also have particularly high economic, cultural, ecological, aesthetic, recreational and educational value.
“The Adopt-a-River initiative is just not going to be about the cleaning of rivers,” said Janet Macharia, Rotary District 9212 Programmes Chair. “We’re going to be planting trees, we’re going to be looking at the environment around the river.”
Patrick Obath, District Governor of Rotary District 9212, said: “Any responsible nation in this world should be looking at cleaning up their rivers so that what goes into the ocean is what naturally should be going there.”
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