Ice capped mountains in the distance and the blue waters of lake Patagonia in the forefront.

By Nick Guroff, former Deputy Director

Professor S. Nazrul Islam’s latest book Rivers and Sustainable Development: Alternative approaches and their implications (2020) provides a timely and compelling case for protecting rivers through an “Ecological and Open policy approach” as the pathway towards achieving sustainable development. Islam provides robust global case studies while keeping the research accessible to increase participation in river policy worldwide. This work is paramount as we continue to face the inequitable impacts of rapid ecological degradation, human rights abuses, and climate injustice at large.

As the book details, Ecological and Open policies pertain to protecting both the frontal integrity of free-flowing rivers, and lateral integrity by allowing for rivers to flow naturally without the restraints of artificial barriers such as levees, or embankments (9). In contrast, the Commercial and subsequent lateral Cordon approaches prioritize industrial and artificial developments to divert, block, or disrupt a river’s flow (22). In juxtaposing the Commerical versus the Ecological approach, Islam explains how the former is “focused on commerical gains, ignoring long-term ecological and ultimately human consequences” (10).

Islam (2020) impressibly weaves a varying range of case studies to illustrate the implications for Ecological vs. Commercial river policies. Most helpful are the successful examples of Ecological approaches in the EU’s 2000 Directive on Water (166), and efforts to overturn unsuccessful Cordon approaches such as the Bengal Delta (281). Together, these demonstrate how ecologically centered policy agendas promote true economic, social, and environmental sustainability and are thus instrumental in achieving the 17 Sustainable Develop Goals (SDG) outlined by the United Nations in 2015.

River policies that are best for climate mitigation are not always intuitive, therefore this book is aimed at supporting countries to make informed policy decisions. Within this goal I particularly appreciate the author’s acknowledgement of civil society organizations and grassroots movements to drive policy agendas; especially given the material interest of domestic and international development such movements are up against.

Rivers and Sustainable Development (2020) goes hand in hand with our work at International Rivers. Most recently, this work echoes our latest report and online global call Rivers for Recovery. Like the book, we make the case that protecting rivers for environmental and social justice is the necessary path in a Covid-19 recovery.  At International Rivers, we work to uplift river communities, specifically Indiengious peoples, to support their own ecologically minded river governance. Thus, as the book makes clear, identifying the synergies between human rights, social justice and environmental sustainability is essential. 

As the former Deputy Director for International Rivers, I would like to recommend Rivers and Sustainable Development (2020). Whether you are just getting started on your journey to becoming a river activist or you are already an expert in water policy and sustainable development, this book will widen your knowledge and better equip you in the fight of our lifetime.