Rivers are drying up and dying says WWF

Posted: 19 March 2007

On the world approaches World Water Day (March 22) a leading conservation agency says that many of the world's most important rivers are dying as a result of man-made problems, threatening humans and wildlife alike.

In its report, World's Top 10 Rivers at Risk WWF lists ten major rivers that are drying-out or dying as a result of climate change, pollution and dams. It concludes that poor planning and inadequate protection of natural areas means we can no longer assume that water will flow forever.

"The world is facing a massive freshwater crisis, which has the potential to be every bit as devastating as climate change." said Dr David Tickner, head of WWF-UK's Freshwater programme. "We need business-leaders and government, to recognise that climate change is not the only urgent environmental issue that needs to be dealt with, and that they need to take notice of this freshwater emergency and act now, not later."

The list includes Europe's Danube, the Americas' La Plata and Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, Africa's Nile-Lake Victoria system and Australia's Murray-Darling, but also highlights the profound problems facing Asia, where five of the ten rivers listed in the report are found - the Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Ganges and Indus.

Wetlands destroyed

Problems highlighted in the report include; dams and dykes along the Danube River - one of the longest flowing rivers in Europe - which have already destroyed 80 per cent of the river basin's wetlands and floodplains; and over-extraction of water from India's Indus River for agriculture leading to water-scarcity and severe threats to freshwater fish populations - the most important source of protein and overall life support systems for tens of millions of people worldwide.

The report calls on governments to better protect river flows and ensure more sustainable water allocations in order to safeguard habitats and people's livelihoods and ensure a secure environment for businesses. Businesses themselves, especially those that rely on thirsty food and fibre products, should look at their own water use and should encourage supply chains to be more water efficient.

"Conservation of rivers and wetlands and security of water flows must be seen as part and parcel of national security, health and economic success," Tickner adds. "Emphasis must be given to exploring ways of using water for crops and products that do not use more water than necessary."

In addition, cooperative agreements for managing shared resources, such as the UN Watercourses Convention, must be ratified and given the resources to make them work, says WWF.

"The freshwater crisis is bigger than the ten rivers listed in this report but it mirrors the extent to which unabated development is jeopardising nature's ability to meet our growing demands," says Tickner. "We must change our mindset now or pay the price in the not so distant future."

To see the full report go to wwf.org.uk

To see previous Planet 21 reports on the state of the world's rivers use our Home Page search facility for 'rivers' or the Water Section archive.