We may take them for granted, but our rivers are a vitally important link in the water cycle and the overall health of the eco-system. Rivers provide a home and food to a variety of animals, fish, insects and plants. These living things play different roles such as cleaning the river and providing food in the river for other animals. We use rivers for water supply, which we use for drinking, cleaning, watering crops, manufacturing products in factories and generating electricity. We also use rivers to transport goods and for recreational activities like sailing, swimming, skiing and fishing.
But our rivers are under threat.
The ‘Atlas of Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas’ in South Africa recently stated that due to pollution and over-extraction more than half of our rivers are in a bad condition. A recent WWF report also found that a quarter of major South African rivers are “critically endangered”.
Intrepid Cape Town open water swimmer, Andrew Chin, is trying to do something about this, by raising awareness and to highlight that everyone has a responsibility to help keep our rivers healthy. He has just embarked on his fifth “Swim for Rivers” extreme swimming challenge, which involves athletes attempting to swim a distance of 100 to 350km in a major river in each of South Africa’s nine provinces.
Chin set off this week from the source of the Mtamvuna River in the Harding district, near Kokstad in Kwazulu-Natal. Over a period of ten days, he aims to cover approximately 165km of the river from source to sea, swimming five to ten hours per day. The challenge will end at the wide river mouth just south of Port Edward.
As with previous swims, Chin is also connecting with community members as well as learners at local schools along the way, where he will be conducting short talks on the importance of our rivers and the role that everyone needs to play in looking after them.
Growing up on a Free State farm, Chin says he learned the value of water – and its impact on survival – at a young age. Early in his career, he worked in rural development, where he experienced, first hand, filling up and carrying barrels to supply a project base camp with fresh water. He says this experience cemented his respect for water as a precious natural resource and also ignited his passion to do something to raise critical awareness about the importance of river health.
We now need government and local water authorities to sit up and take notice, and step up educational campaigns for communities who live alongside rivers. We need to start living in symbiosis with our large network of rivers, and hopefully, Andrew Chin and his team can raise enough awareness for concrete action to be taken.