18 February 2021 | 4 minutes.

Journey of Water: Water does not come from a tap

Participants partaking in the #JourneyofWater in Zambia

Photo: WWF Zambia

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Richard Lee
Freshwater Communications Manager – WWF

Richard Lee, Freshwater Communications Manager – WWF

This year REVOLVE has partnered with WWF to showcase the journey of water and how it is inextricably linked to our lives. From the dams of Finland to the Mekong delta, join us on our voyage across the globe as we discover the water-challenges we are facing, and the innovations we are making to overcome them.

When it comes to SDG6 of the UN development goals, the world is way off track: over 2 billion people still lack access to safe water. Meanwhile, many of our rivers – the direct source of much of our drinking water – are dying as they are drained, dammed, dredged, and polluted. But few people connect the two. The WASH sector sticks to taps and toilets, while the freshwater conservation community focuses on riverine health – as if the two worlds are somehow unconnected with each other.

WWF’s flagship Journey of Water campaign was launched to bridge this gaping communications gap – to remind people that water does not come from a tap and that you cannot have water for all without healthy rivers.

A self-fulfilling prophecy

Prophetically, the very first Journey of Water in 2013 followed the course of a key river near Cape Town – five years before the city came perilously close to #DayZero and running out of water. Suffice to say, Capetonians are all too aware these days about the need to protect and restore their water sources if they want their tap water to keep flowing.

Since that successful start, there have been three more journeys in South Africa, while the campaign has also gathered steam across the world with journeys in Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America.

Key to the reach and impact of the journeys are the participants – celebrities, social media influencers and journalists – who not only tackle the physical challenge but also learn first-hand from guest speakers along the route about issues affecting water security and river health, ranging from mining impacts to irrigation for agriculture, pollution and climate change. Critically, they then tell their assorted followers about the threats and solutions in their own words and their own way – a far more effective means of influencing mass audiences.

Journeys across the world

The journeys all involve a variety of activities that give the participants a close up view of the river, such as hiking, canoeing, horse-riding and even zip-lining. Underpinning this physical journey is the message that the best way to ensure there is water for human needs is by looking after the natural environment and the rivers we depend on – a message that is echoed by everyone they speak to, from community members to river managers and government ministers.

The first country to follow South Africa’s lead was Zambia, which focused its celebrity-laden journey on an increasingly water stressed stretch of the Kafue River, which provides most of the capital’s water and much of the country’s electricity. With backing from corporate partners, Malaysia has run three journeys, capturing significant media and social media attention. In Brazil, participants journeyed by foot, horse, bike, and boat along the Paraguay River to highlight threats to the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland. One of the celebrity participants was so inspired that he subsequently moderated a major event at the World Water Forum when Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay signed a landmark agreement to sustainably manage the Pantanal. Finally, China – unsurprisingly – hosted the longest and biggest journey of them all so far on the Yangtze, directly reaching tens of thousands during the voyage and vast numbers on social media.

While COVID-19 has left several planned journeys in limbo – it is expected that these will resume in 2021 once the pandemic is brought under control. There is no time to rest in our fight to save our rivers and ensuring water can continue its journey.

Campaign ad from WWF’s #JourneyofWater in South Africa. WWF has been working in catchments in South Africa for nearly two decades. Photo: WWF South Africa