Flash Points

Themed journeys through our archive.

Can the World’s Rivers Be Saved?

Key waterways are drying up around the globe.

Mexico City residents travel to the outskirts of the city and relax along the banks of the Rio Magdalena. It is the last living river in the city, and so one of the few places to enjoy clean running water.
Mexico City residents travel to the outskirts of the city and relax along the banks of the Rio Magdalena. It is the last living river in the city, and so one of the few places to enjoy clean running water.
Mexico City residents travel to the outskirts of the city and relax along the banks of the Rio Magdalena. It is the last living river in the city, and so one of the few places to enjoy clean running water. Luc Forsyth for Foreign Policy

Most of the world’s major cities are built around rivers. But what happens when these key waterways are threatened—either by human intervention or a changing climate?

This collection of essays and reportage from the FP archives explores the role the world’s rivers, from the Rhine to the Mekong, serve as arteries of trade and sources of food and drinking water. It also examines the devastating impacts of man-made dams, pollution, and climate change on rivers, and the question of whether—and how—they can be saved.—Chloe Hadavas

The Beautiful Rivers—And the Dammed

Advances in solar and wind power mean that hydropower is no longer the only renewable game in town—and that’s good news for the world’s rivers, Jeff Opperman, Chris Weber, and Daniel Kammen write.

Most of the world’s major cities are built around rivers. But what happens when these key waterways are threatened—either by human intervention or a changing climate?

This collection of essays and reportage from the FP archives explores the role the world’s rivers, from the Rhine to the Mekong, serve as arteries of trade and sources of food and drinking water. It also examines the devastating impacts of man-made dams, pollution, and climate change on rivers, and the question of whether—and how—they can be saved.—Chloe Hadavas


Water is released from the floodgates of the Xiaolangdi dam on the Yellow River near Luoyang, China on June 29, 2016.
Water is released from the floodgates of the Xiaolangdi dam on the Yellow River near Luoyang, China on June 29, 2016.

Water is released from the floodgates of the Xiaolangdi dam on the Yellow River near Luoyang, China on June 29, 2016.STR/AFP/Getty Images

The Beautiful Rivers—And the Dammed

Advances in solar and wind power mean that hydropower is no longer the only renewable game in town—and that’s good news for the world’s rivers, Jeff Opperman, Chris Weber, and Daniel Kammen write.


A fisherman floats on the Mekong River in Thailand
A fisherman floats on the Mekong River in Thailand

A fisherman floats on the Mekong River in Pak Chom district in the northeastern Thai province of Loei on Oct. 31, 2019. The once mighty river has been reduced to a thin, grubby neck of water in northern Thailand, record lows blamed on drought and a recently opened dam hundreds of miles upstream. LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP via Getty Images

Science Shows Chinese Dams Are Devastating the Mekong

New data demonstrates a devastating effect on downstream water supplies that feed millions of people, Brian Eyler writes.


An offering of fruit and flowers sits on the banks of the Rio Magdalena. Such offerings are typically made only near clean water, a resource in short supply in Mexico City.
An offering of fruit and flowers sits on the banks of the Rio Magdalena. Such offerings are typically made only near clean water, a resource in short supply in Mexico City.

An offering of fruit and flowers sits on the banks of the Rio Magdalena. Such offerings are typically made only near clean water, a resource in short supply in Mexico City.Luc Forsyth for Foreign Policy

Mexico City’s Last Living River

As urbanization spreads, pollution threatens a precious natural resource at the outer edge of the metropolis. Luc Forsyth documents the changing ecosystem.


Rangers stop a fishing boat for questioning at a bird sanctuary and protected area by Prek Toal floating village in Battambang province, Cambodia on October 14, 2020.
Rangers stop a fishing boat for questioning at a bird sanctuary and protected area by Prek Toal floating village in Battambang province, Cambodia on October 14, 2020.

Rangers stop a fishing boat for questioning at a bird sanctuary and protected area by Prek Toal floating village in Battambang province, Cambodia on October 14, 2020. Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP via Getty Images

China Is Choking Off Asia’s Most Important River

Upstream dams are destroying the Mekong Basin, Abby Seiff writes.


The Rhine runs low during a heat wave in Cologne, Germany, on July 18.
The Rhine runs low during a heat wave in Cologne, Germany, on July 18.

The Rhine runs low during a heat wave in Cologne, Germany, on July 18. Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Germany’s Economy Is Carried on the Rhine’s Shrinking Back

Rivers are critical to transportation—and drying up as the climate shifts, FP’s Elisabeth Braw writes.

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