World Water Day: Solving People’s Problems through Rivers
Kennedy Michael and Syuen Toh, Alliance for River Three
An art installation of a Rubik’s Cube that features the Sustainable Development Goals in Tbilisi, Georgia. We need to solve the SDGs together, not separately.
A long-time practitioner and expert in river rehabilitation in Malaysia made this observation: successful grassroots river care organizations come in many different forms but share one key characteristic: they solve people’s problems. This may seem strange at first glance. Aren’t river care organizations about solving riverine problems?
Let us consider another type of organization, a restaurant. A restaurant sells food, but people eat at restaurants because this solves one or more problems: hunger, lack of time or facilities to cook, wanting to eat something they do not know how to cook, etc. The strategy a restaurant adopts will depend on the set of needs it tries to address. A restaurant with customers that just need to eat something will sell simple food at a low price; a restaurant solving office-workers’ need to eat during the lunch-hour rush will prioritize speed of service; and a fine-dining restaurant pairs difficult-to-prepare food with ambience and quality service for those searching not just for food but for a dining experience.
Successful grassroots river care organizations come in many different forms but share one key characteristic—they solve people’s problems.
Organizations have a variety of goals from making profits to improving river water quality. All of them achieve their goals by solving the problem(s) of one or more groups of people. In the context of river care, this can look like:
- Connecting with and equipping people who already see river health as a problem so they can better solve it.
- Convincing people that poor river health is their problem—and then offering a solution.
- Addressing other problems (e.g., desire for recreational spaces) through a riverine space so that existing priorities are now linked to river health.
All these approaches are valid and important. However, the third approach (addressing other problems through rivers) is critical to generating a broad demand for river health. River health depends on many actors that may or may not prioritize rivers, so securing this requires changes in societal behaviours from households to corporations. To achieve societal buy-in we need to reconnect the public to rivers and reconnect the value of rivers to a broader sustainable development agenda. Placemaking—that is collectively reclaiming a place by giving it new meaning and purpose—is a powerful way to do this.