Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From the Tiber to the Ganges, Volunteers Gather to Clean Waterways

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From the Tiber to the Ganges, Volunteers Gather to Clean Waterways

Article excerpt

Frustrated with the city of Rome's failure to maintain the Tiber River, a group of volunteers has taken its restoration into their own hands. Not only in Rome, but globally, cleanup crusades have swept up (literally) other important rivers of the world, including the Rhine, the Ganges, and the Charles in Boston.

The Tiber, on which the city of Rome was founded, according to legend, was once deified as the god Tiberinus. Yet today, the banks of the river are covered in graffiti, litter, homeless encampments, and overgrown vegetation, while its waters endure murk and filth. Although Roman city officials have been promising for decades to clean up the river's banks, they have yet to do so, citing a lack of money and resources.

Now several groups of volunteers have decided to take Rome's inaction as an opportunity to pursue various environmental and artistic initiatives. One such initiative, known as reverse graffiti, uses stencils and power-washing to reduce the organic and inorganic grime on the river embankment. The 500-yard-long project, called "Triumphs and Laments," depicts a procession of characters, such as Cicero or St. Theresa, throughout Roman history.

"There's no specific narrative, except that everyone's triumphs and glories is someone else's laments and shamefulness," says William Kentridge, a South African artist who conceived of the project. "It was a real challenge getting contemporary art accepted in the heart of ancient Rome."

The Tiber cleanup follows in the tradition of decades-long river cleanup throughout the world. During central Europe's economic resurgence in the 1960s and '70s, the Rhine's increased pollution wiped out several species of fish and other animals native to the iconic European river. By the end of the '70s, efforts among various countries to clean up the Rhine coalesced as a story of international cooperation.

In 1987, members of the ICPR (International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine) adopted the Rhine Action Plan to guarantee drinking water, reduce the amount of mercury, lead, cadmium, and dioxins by 50-75 percent, build basins to collect fire extinction water, tighten safety norms in industrial plants, rehabilitate the Rhine's ecology and fish passages, and restore the plants and animals typical of the Rhine habitat. …

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