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UNEP-Rotary partnership aims to safeguard freshwater sources 

  • UNEP-Rotary partnership aims to safeguard freshwater sources 

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The leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system.

A new partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and one of the world’s largest service organizations, Rotary International, will work to conserve and restore freshwater bodies

UNEP and Rotary International announced their partnership at Rotary International Assembly, which ran from 7-11 January 2024. Rotary International is a global network of 1.4 million members and 45,000 clubs.  

Freshwater ecosystems and their biodiversity are important to society. They provide drinking water, water for irrigation, fish and other food, recreational opportunities, and transport routes, among a host of other essentials. Yet, all too often, they suffer from pollution, overuse and climate change.   

In 2020, Rotary International added the environment as one of its seven focus areas because of pressure from its extensive, socially responsible membership.   

The partnership with Rotary International will assist UNEP’s global efforts to support countries in monitoring, protecting, restoring and better managing their freshwater ecosystems, such as lakes, rivers, wetlands and groundwater aquifers, to meet sustainable development, climate, biodiversity and other global commitments.  

“Great partnerships are key to accelerating water action,” said Leticia Carvalho, Principal Coordinator of UNEP’s Marine and Freshwater Branch. “We very much look forward to working with Rotary with its global reach, close connections to communities and action-focused engagement.” 

The partnership will empower Rotary members, among them youth known as Interactors and Rotaractors, through a new initiative, Community Action for Fresh Water. The initiative will share guidance and information from UNEP’s experts and partners with Rotary members on the best way to protect, restore and sustain freshwater ecosystems.   

Community focus  

UNEP believes that the key to protecting and sustaining natural ecosystems is engaging, educating and motivating the communities that live close to those ecosystems. For this reason, community-based Rotary clubs are important actors in this initiative.   

Rotary actively fosters environmental sustainability through community-driven solutions, uniting diverse expertise and encouraging collective action to address ecological challenges. With more than US$23 million invested by Rotary International’s foundation, Rotary clubs worldwide undertake impactful environmental projects ranging from local clean-ups and tree plantings to large-scale efforts like installing solar power, creating waste management systems and conserving ecosystems.   

A pilot project, Adopt a River for Sustainable Development, was recently implemented in Rotary District 9212 covering Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan. The effort showed that solid waste clean-ups have an immediate impact and are an excellent way to mobilize community action. However, the clean-ups have limited benefits unless the source of the waste is addressed. It is also important that projects engage with communities early in the planning process and work closely with local government agencies that are best able to maximize the impact of available funds, experts say. 

UNEP is the global custodian of three Sustainable Development Goal 6 indicators, with responsibility for global monitoring and reporting relating to freshwater ecosystem health (6.6), ambient water quality (6.3), and integrated water resources management (6.5). In the future, Rotary clubs will look to gather water quality data using internationally recognized systems as part of a citizen science initiative. This will contribute to the creation of a global picture of freshwater ecosystem health to make policymakers and large donors aware of the issues and solutions, so that more support can be given to those Rotary clubs that are making a difference.  

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