After a week of overwhelming environmental news around the world, including record-shattering heat, terrible droughts, and forest fires, we feel hopelessness, uncertainty and sadness. I suffered feelings of deep helplessness this past week, as wildfires in my country, Colombia, are destroying large tracts of moors and native forests. These are the ecosystems on which our country’s water production and climate regulation depend.
But then, on January 27th I had the opportunity to interview Rotarian Wilson Lozada from District 4400 in Ecuador and Pablo Palacios, who is President of the Arcandina Foundation, an Ecuadoran nonprofit dedicated to conservation education and social marketing. They briefed me about the World Water Minga, their initiative which seeks to connect Rotary clubs worldwide to undertake the cleaning and conservation of bodies of water. Listening to their inspiring words and the beautiful background of the project, my helplessness turned into hope. I remembered why we are Rotarians: we are People of Action. This article is my way to start taking action on their goal by showcasing it, and I want you and each of your clubs to also take action by joining this global initiative.
Our pre-Hispanic Latin American cultures have the ancient tradition of convening a Minga to achieve a common goal. This is how the World Water Minga Project was born. The goals are to promote shared days of community river actions to raise public awareness about the pollution of water bodies and the importance of these ecosystems for the survival of humanity as well as the other living things that depend on this vital resource. It’s inspiring that this initiative arose in Latin America at the same time Rotary International was completing its Adopt-a-River pilot with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The success of Adopt-a-River culminated in the UNEP-RI joint announcement Jan. 10 of their global initiative, Community Action for Fresh Water (CAFW). You can learn more on in ESRAG’s February newsletter and Rotary’s CAFW.
Both CAFW and the World Water Minga Project aim to build worldwide impact by catalyzing local partnerships to protect and restore fresh water. Ecuador’s Rotarians began with the planting of native trees around watersheds. Then, since 2021, many Water Minga initiatives took place with other organizations. The partners have carried out 15 mingas to clean Ecuador’s San Pedro River. Over 1,200 volunteers contributed more than 8,500 hours of community work, collecting 12 tons of waste.
“In March 2023, writes Pablo Palacios, “the San Pedro Rescue Collective and the Los Chillos Milenio Rotary Club of Quito organized the first international minga for the rescue of rivers, which was carried out simultaneously in 8 countries and 30 locations in Ecuador in conjunction with the Ministry of the Environment of Ecuador and more than 10 organizations including the Municipality of Quito, Municipality of Rumiñahi, Universidad San Francisco, Udla, Arcandina, Guayllabamba Waterkeeper, Sustainable Ocean Alliance, Coalicion Hidrica del Ecuador, and Peak Performance.”
The team’s 2024 goal is for Clubs from at least 30 countries and 80 organizations to join. To achieve this, we need all of you. When polio endangered the health and survival of people throughout the world, we united to eradicate it. Now the degradation of the environment – including the pollution of water sources – threatens the health and survival of human beings. The UN reports that since 1970, the world has lost 35% of its wetlands. In less than half a century, the number of freshwater animals has decreased by more than 85%, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
UNESCO warns of the imminent risk of a global water crisis. According to the World Health Organization, the health of more than 2 billion people is at serious risk from drinking water from contaminated sources by feces and dangerous chemicals. This contamination also affects the survival of the aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity on which we depend as a species.
Imagine the camaraderie and impact when Rotary Clubs all around the world join forces on the same day to clean and restore rivers and other bodies of water. Our World Water Minga will create a space of joint work, through exchange of experiences, projects and results. If our clubs and districts launch environmental education around the impact of contaminated water on health and how to clean up and prevent pollution, we can begin to generate a sense of community ownership of these ecosystems. By working together, we will recover the ancestral and spiritual practices of caring for Mother Earth and helping each other for the Common Good. We will weave alliances between civil society, academia, communities, governments and corporations. These alliances will equip communities to transform bad practices and help us develop coherent public policies that our communities understand and support.
To participate, all you have to do is register your club. The organizers are developing a website with instructions on effective practices for messaging, building partnerships, implementation, citizen science to document the types and sources of pollution, and waste disposal. They will post educational resources in Spanish and English, branding material, online training, and an online database to register activity anywhere in the world. Perhaps we will achieve a Guinness World Record for the largest number of volunteers cleaning water sources in a single day around the world. Help us break records in the best way!
To join this initiative contact Wilson Lozada from Club Rotario Los Chillos Milenio at firstname.lastname@example.org or Pablo Palacios from Fundación Arcandina at email@example.com. Watch for more information that we will be sharing on ESRAG´s website and social networks.
Natalia Luque is ESRAG’s Latin American correspondent, a biologist in Colombia, and a member of the Club Global Zipaquirá in Colombia.