An Urgent Appeal for the Restoration and Protection of Our Rivers
To the Member States of the United Nations General Assembly -
I’m writing to make an appeal about rivers, and the crucial role they play in ensuring a habitable planet.
Rivers are our Earth’s arteries, connecting the land and the oceans.
We have used our rivers since civilizations first evolved alongside them. We’ve drunk from them, planted next to them and travelled along them.
But we’ve also shamelessly abused them. We have thrown our waste into them. We’ve discharged our sewage into them. We’ve allowed them to absorb our agricultural runoff and toxic industrial waste.
Our oceans have no choice but to accept everything that rivers bring to them. River problems become ocean problems.
This is why, as UNEP’s Patron of the Ocean, I chose to swim down the Hudson river. I wanted to tell a story about our abused and degraded river systems. But I also wanted to tell a story about hope.
The Hudson tells how a damaged river can be turned around when it is cared for by a community that is passionate about its waterway. This story is far from over, and there is much work still to be done. But it’s a story that can and should be told for every river on this blue and green planet.
It is a story I wanted to tell in New York City, where the Hudson river ends, and you as world leaders gather each year to confer about the biggest issues that face humanity, and how we can use our collective wisdom to solve them.
Healthy rivers enable us to live, but also help us avoid disaster. They absorb water during floods, and release it during droughts. They are central to water and food security, tackling the climate and biodiversity crises, and protecting our oceans.
Healthy rivers build resilience.
On behalf of everyone who has supported my journey and signed on to this letter, I appeal to you to follow through on the landmark agreement made at the Convention on Biological Diversity last year, which pledges to protect 30% of the world’s land, inland waters and oceans by 2030, and to prioritize the restoration and revival of the vital river systems that connect the two.
It’s time for countries to put their pledges into action and restore, protect and respect our rivers.
Lewis Pugh UNEP Patron of the Oceans