We Can’t Halt Extinctions Unless We Protect Water

A fisherman of the Abume community, Lake Volta, Ghana. Credit:
Nana Kofi Acquah/International Water Management Institute

By Claudia Sadoff
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, May 31 2019 (IPS)

Global biodiversity
loss has reached critical levels.
One million species of plants
and animals are now estimated to be at risk of extinction. The
window for action is closing, and the world needs to urgently take
note.

Countries would do well to consider this: our ability to
preserve species hinges to a great extent on the actions we take to
protect freshwater ecosystems. Safeguarding water for the
environment is critical for biodiversity and for people.

Freshwater ecosystems are major biodiversity hotspots. We derive
much value from them, even though we may not realise it. Wetlands
purify drinking water; fish is one of the most traded food
commodities on the planet; and floodplains can provide vital
buffers that lessen the impacts of flooding.

The people who depend most on the services provided by aquatic
ecosystems are generally the poorest and most marginalized in
developing countries
and consequently those hardest hit by
biodiversity loss.

However, all of us, both rich and poor, depend on healthy
ecosystems, so degradation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity
pose an enormous threat for everyone.

About 35 per cent of the world’s biodiversity-rich wetlands,
for example,
have been lost or seriously degraded
since 1970. The annual
value of the benefits these wetlands (freshwater and coastal)
provide is estimated at
a staggering USD 36.2 trillion
; nearly double the benefits
derived from all the world’s forests.

Sustainable management of aquatic ecosystems (and of water
resources in general) must aim to ensure that ecosystems continue
providing these services.

A key approach for reversing this trend centres on ensuring that
water continues to flow in a way that will sustain aquatic
ecosystems, thereby supporting populations, economies, sustainable
livelihoods, and well-being.

Pumping water by hand in mid-Western Nepal. Credit: Satyam
Joshi/USAID

This means maintaining the right quality, quantity and timing of
water flows – which scientists call “environmental flows”, or
“E-flows” for short.

Managing tradeoffs

Water, through contributions to economic growth, environmental
health and human well-being, plays a critical role in many of our
broader sustainable development goals. It will therefore be
necessary to consider some inevitable tradeoffs when planning for
the sustainable management of water.

Take the expansion of irrigation for more intensive crop
production, for example, which is essential for ending hunger. The
alternative to increasing irrigation would be massive encroachment
of agriculture on forests and other fragile ecosystems, thus
undermining the protection of biodiversity.

At the same time, increased irrigation will, by removing water
from rivers and aquifers, inevitably have some negative impacts on
aquatic ecosystems.

The challenge is to maximize synergies and minimize tradeoffs,
and to do so in ways that are transparent and equitable, based on
scientific evidence. Undertaking detailed assessments of E-flows
helps make the tradeoffs explicit.
The information derived from E-flow assessments can contribute to
important discussions between different sectors and actors, helping
to determine which outcomes are acceptable to society and likely to
be sustainable.

E-flows assessment in action

For more than a decade, the International Water Management
Institute (IWMI)
has been devising and steadily improving
methods for E-flow assessment
. In a 2007 project, IWMI
partnered with World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-India) to
carry out the country’s first-ever holistic environmental flow
assessment, focused on the iconic Ganges River.

The Indian government subsequently incorporated the concept of
E-flows into the aims and objectives of the National Mission for
Clean Ganga, the implementation arm of the National Ganga River
Basin Authority.

Working with partners, IWMI researchers have now developed

E-flow calculators
, a family of software formaking rapid,
assessments anywhere in the world from a computer.

More recently, IWMI researchers have further adapted their
E-flow calculator for specific river basins, such as those in
western Nepal. As a result of those developments, E-flow assessment
is now poised for wider application in diverse settings.

In support of national efforts to better manage tradeoffs in
water management, information provided by E-flow calculators can
also contribute to tracking “water stress”.

For instance, how much freshwater economic activities withdraw
compared to the total renewable supply, and how much water should
be left in rivers to maintain basic ecological functions and
ecosystem services.

Too much of our biodiversity depends on water for us to overlook
sustainable water management as a key part of the solution to
species extinction. The time has come for a more concerted effort
to stem the loss of aquatic ecosystems and of the myriad species
that inhabit them.

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We Can’t Halt Extinctions Unless We Protect Water
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Excerpt:

Claudia Sadoff is Director General,
International Water Management Institute (IWMI)

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We Can’t Halt Extinctions Unless We Protect Water
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Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
We Can’t Halt Extinctions Unless We Protect Water