Skip to main content

Rotary partnership with the United Nations puts the focus on waterways

Skip to main content


To find out how to start protecting local waterways, write to

A new collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme empowers Rotary members to clean up, protect, and monitor their local waterways. The strategic partnership aligns with both the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Rotary’s environment area of focus.

The partnership “brings together Rotary’s community-based solutions and UNEP’s technical expertise,” RI President-elect Stephanie Urchick said when announcing the partnership on 10 January. She spoke at Rotary’s International Assembly, the organization’s gathering of incoming district governors.

At the center of the partnership is a program enabling Rotary and Rotaract clubs to make commitments to the health of their own nearby waterways. Called Community Action for Fresh Water, the program will encourage clubs to organize river cleanup days, raise awareness in their communities about the importance of healthy waterways, conduct basic water quality tests, and report their findings.

These locally based activities are crucial to protecting the environment on a global scale, says Rafael Peralta, regional director and representative for the UNEP’s office for North America.

“The protection, management, and restoration of freshwater ecosystems is fundamental to combating the triple planetary crises: the crisis of climate change, the crisis of biodiversity loss, and the crisis of pollution and waste,” Peralta said at the announcement ceremony. “As populations develop and economies expand, so too does the demand for fresh water. This puts freshwater ecosystems under increasing pressure.”

This partnership builds on a pilot program, Adopt a River for Sustainable Development, begun in 2020 by UNEP and Rotary District 9212 (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Sudan). In addition, Rotary and Rotaract clubs around the world have often worked independently to clean up freshwater ecosystems.

“Healthy watersheds help biodiversity, forests, wetlands, and lakes. They help agriculture, help the economy, recharge the aquifers, and provide water to millions of people around the world,” said Salvador Rico, a member of The Rotary Foundation Cadre of Technical Advisers. “A contaminated river and a damaged watershed make the area prone to fires, cause droughts, cause diseases, affect the economy of nearby communities, and contribute to climate change.”

The Rotary Foundation is funding program costs over the course of three years, with the potential for continued support. Clubs can use district funds or apply for global grants to pay for their activities. 

To participate, Rotary and Rotaract clubs can identify a local body of water (river, lake, wetland, or natural reservoir) and commit to protecting and restoring it. They can then engage with the local community and other relevant groups to identify any major threats to the body of water and ultimately develop a plan of action in coordination with nongovernmental organizations, private enterprises, or government agencies.

Related stories

Lesson learned: Make sure government stays involved

Learn more about Rotary’s commitment to the environment