Reminding Dominica that our rivers are dying
Rivers are an integral part of Dominican life. Even the country's national anthem proudly attests to that when it says: "Rivers, valleys, hills and mountains, All these gifts we do extol." But if we truly believe that our 365 rivers are "rich and rare" gifts of nature to Dominica why do we have such a nonchalant attitude towards rivers? Unfortunately we take our rivers for granted but we'll never miss the water in our rivers until they run completely dry.
As we indicated in an earlier editorial, conservationist Anthony Toulon raised the alarm about the state of our rivers a few years ago in an email comment. He said that "the entire Caribbean is slipping into the onset of desertification." Toulon suggested then that since Christopher Columbus arrived here in the 1400's "not a single river has grown by one inch" and that every river in the Caribbean is losing at least two to three inches every year." That figure may be disputed, but the fact is our rivers are obviously drying up right before our eyes. Jamaica, Toulon estimated, had lost 50 rivers and St. Lucia was following in its footsteps due to a combination of deforestation, house building, road building, legally sanctioned tree cutting by utility companies and the replanting of inappropriate species.
A stark example of the current state of Dominica's rivers is the Roseau River. Last week a contractor was constructing a wall on the northern banks of that river. Operators of backhoes removed tons of sand and boulders from the middle of the river bed, yet the wheels of these large pieces of equipment did not get wet in spite of the fact that we are in the middle of the rainy season.
In 2014 World Rivers Day is observed on September 28, that is the last Sunday in September ,and river advocates from around the globe are expected to participate.
"As always, a major participant is British Columbia with its massive BC Rivers Day (which inspired World Rivers Day (WRD)) with numerous large events taking place," writes Mark Angelo, Rivers Day Chair and head of the Rivers Institute at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in a press statement.
Angelo outlined a number of events that will take place across the globe: "In the United States, many events are being planned by an array of groups, including a number of local Riverkeepers associated with the Waterkeepers Alliance. In Mexico, the Fundacion Comunidades del Alto Lerma is planning a great event along the Lerma River, aimed at better protecting both the waterway and key riparian habitats. And in Central America, groups such as the Costa Rican based Amigos del (Río/River) Torres are planning events.
"In other parts of the world, there is the massive Rivers and Wetlands Community Day celebration being planned in south east England.
"There will also be activities across the great waterways of Europe, with the help of the renowned river cruising company, Uniworld .
"In Asia (events)will include Malaysia's great "River Carnival" – and in Bangladesh, more than 25 environmental organizations, working in conjunction with the Riverine People, will be celebrating World Rivers Day.
"And in Australia, events will range from a country-wide photo contest organized by the International River Foundation (IRF), to the River Symposium in Canberra, which will include a special private preview showing of the major upcoming film, RiverBlue. In Africa, events will take place from South Africa to Nigeria."
The objective of WRD is to increase public awareness about the importance of our waterways as well as to highlight 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 Angelo.
Endorsed in its inaugural year by UN agencies such as the United Nations University and the International Network of Water, Environment, and Health and with HSBC as its lead sponsor, WRD events usually include river clean-ups, fish enhancement projects, stream restoration initiatives, workshops, educational programmes, and community riverside festivals.
Angelo informs us through that press statement that we quoted earlier that "in the Caribbean, the beautiful "Nature Isle" of Dominica has been a World Rivers Day participant from virtually the beginning and is planning events on the Indian, Roseau, Layou and Grand Bay Rivers."
But if past events are any indication, WRD 2014 in Dominica will not be a grand affair. River advocates such as Father Franklyn Cuffy and the Waitukubuli Ecological Foundation (WEF) have tried to raise awareness of the plight of our "gifts so rich and rare" but they are voices in the wilderness. Few persons are listening and fewer are doing anything to reverse the trend of disappearing rivers.
This is rather unfortunate because WRD helps to create a greater awareness of the many threats that confront our rivers. The effects of climate change and have come to symbolize the freshwater crisis facing many countries. We, therefore, need to appreciate that our rivers, as our national anthem exhorts us, are gifts we must extol and preserve. We can begin by joining an activity on WRD 2014.