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This is one of the paradoxes of life in Dominica. Rivers are so important to the economic and social development of the island, it is such an integral part of our natural resource base, our tourism, yet almost everyone, including the government, takes them for granted.

Well, apparently not since 27 August 2015 (27Eight) when rivers and streams fed quickly by Erika ravaged towns and villages causing more than one billion dollars in damages. We suggest that 27Eight must become our annual Day of Rivers and it must become almost as important as the date 911 is to people of the United States of America.

An example of our nonchalant attitude to our rivers can be discerned from the fact that, with the exception of a few persons and groups, Dominicans could care less about World Rivers Day (WRD) which is observed internationally every year on September 26. The voice of Catholic priest Father Franklyn Cuffy and that of one or two other persons are crying in the wilderness about the state of our rivers. We care so little about our rivers we do not even worry enough to protect ourselves in the event they get angry like they did on 27Eight.

After Erika's devastation Father Cuffy has chosen a theme for World Rivers Day to be observed on Sunday 27 September 2015. The new theme is: "Honouring the lives of our loved ones in the Aftermath of TS Erika" We learned recently that although the Forestry Department is legally accountable for rivers no specific department of the Government of Dominica budgets and plans for the protection, research and preservation of rivers. Everyone holds part of the stake but essentially rivers, to quote King Dice's calypso, are "on their own."

This should not be so because rivers are an integral part of Dominican life. The country's national anthem written by W. Pond proudly states:

Isle of beauty, isle of splendour, /Isle to all so sweet and fair, /All must surely gaze in wonder /At thy gifts so rich and rare. /Rivers, valleys, hills and mountains, All these gifts we do extol. /Healthy land, so like all fountains, / Giving cheer that warms the soul"

But if we truly believe that these 365 rivers are "rich and rare" gifts of nature to Dominica what are we doing to preserve them for our future generations? Not much, really.

According to the literature produced for WRD, millions of people from across the globe are expected to participate in the in the sixth annual World Rivers Day (WRD) on Sunday, September 26. With many of the world's rivers facing severe and mounting threats associated with climate change, pollution, and industrial development, dozens of countries are rallying to participate in this year's festivities. Some will focus on educational and public awareness activities while others will organize events that will range from river and stream cleanups, to habitat enhancement and restoration activities, to community riverside celebrations. WRD is based on the great success of BC Rivers Day in Canada's western most province.

Rivers Day strives to increase public awareness about the importance of our waterways as well as the threats confronting them. "Rivers are the arteries of our planet and yet many waterways continue to be impacted by inappropriate practices and inadequate protection," says Mark Angelo, Rivers Day Chair and head of the Rivers Institute at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT).

This year events will take place in dozens of countries, ranging from Canada to England, Poland to the United States, Malaysia to Australia, and from South Africa to the island of Dominica. Angelo says that beyond celebrating our rivers, WRD helps to create a greater awareness of the many threats that confront our waterways. Many rivers are also being hard hit by climate change and have come to symbolize the freshwater crisis facing many countries, making improved stewardship imperative.

In Dominica Tropical Storm Erika has reminded us that rivers and streams can be blessings but if we do not protect ourselves and property against them they can become extremely dangerous.

In a report entitled: Rethinking Disasters. Why Death and Destruction is not Nature's Fault but Human Failure" Oxfam International argues "unsuitable social and development policies and environmental degradation" are largely to be blamed for the growing numbers of disasters in Dominica and across the world.

"Our experience shows that successful disaster risk reduction policies, integrated into development work, save lives and money, making vulnerable communities more resilient and protecting developĀ¬ment gains."

That's what 27Eight has demonstrated to us. And the price tag for that lesson is a billion dollars. How much cheaper would be the construction of a few river walls and deeper concern for our environment?


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