YANGON/MANILA – It was business as usual around some of Southeast Asia’s filthiest rivers on Tuesday, the eve of the International Day of Action for Rivers, despite widespread and global efforts to increase their conservation and protection in the face ever-increasing urban development.
Rivers are a fundamental part of millions of people’s lives in the region, whether as a source of food, spirituality, recreation or a mode of transport, but efforts to modernize have seriously threatened the waterways’ health and long-term survival.
Along the garbage-littered banks of the Yangon river in Myanmar, locals defy the overwhelming filth and stink filling the air in order to carry out their day-to-day tasks.
Despite the piles of rubbish collecting on the riverbank, people must navigate and exploit the waterway as best they can – an epa photographer reported seeing a man scavenging for recyclable material, while another waded through the trash as he carried a basket of mangos to the other side.
Rivers are also a crucial part of the lives of millions of poor Filipinos; informal settlers in the Philippine capital city, Manila, who live along the river resort to resting underneath a bridge in an attempt to avoid the filth and smell of the murky river nearby.
Elsewhere in the capital, an epa photographer visited around 100 families who live on a canal that has become overwhelmed by garbage due to the city’s population rise over recent decades.
The amount of trash in the canal is such that children can step on it to cross the river to get to school.
In addition to smells that can turn the stomach, the residents, and children in particular, are exposed to serious health risks, including lung disease.
“Our aim on this International Day of Action for Rivers, is to raise our voices in unison against destructive water development projects, reclaim the health of our watersheds, and demand the equitable and sustainable management of our rivers,” International Rivers, a nonprofit that has been working to bring about awareness surrounding protection of rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them, said on its website.
With this aim, environmental activists around the world have come together since 1997 to mark the international day of action for rivers on March 14, to demand better policies and awareness of the threats facing rivers worldwide.
“It is a day to unite – by acting together, we demonstrate that these issues are not merely local, but global in scope,” the NGO said.
Rivers are threatened not only by poor conservation or waste management, but also by urban development and growth.
In order to meet a growing demand for power in a rapidly developing country, Myanmar plans to build dams on some of its most pristine rivers, including the Salween River (the region’s last major undammed river).
It is imperative to “to challenge dam plans and promote more sensible options for meeting the region’s energy and development needs,” the nonprofit says.