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Going nowhere fast: Top rivers face mounting threats


Gland, Switzerland – Rivers on every continent are drying out, threatening severe water shortages, according to a new WWF report.

The report, World’s Top Rivers at Risk, released ahead of World Water Day (22 March), lists the top ten rivers that are fast dying as a result of climate change, pollution and dams.

“All the rivers in the report symbolize the current freshwater crisis, which we have been signalling for years" says WWF Global Freshwater Programme Director Jamie Pittock.

"Poor planning and inadequate protection of natural areas mean we can no longer assume that water will flow forever. Like the climate change crisis, which now has the attention of business and government, we want leaders to take notice of the emergency facing freshwater now not later.”

Five of the ten rivers listed in the report are in Asia alone. They are the Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Ganges and Indus. Europe’s Danube, the Americas’ La Plata and Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, Africa’s Nile-Lake Victoria and Australia’s Murray-Darling also make the list.

Dams along the Danube River — one of the longest flowing rivers in Europe — have already destroyed 80 per cent of the river basin’s wetlands and floodplains. Even without warmer temperatures threatening to melt Himalayan glaciers, the Indus River faces scarcity due to over-extraction for agriculture. Fish populations, the main source of protein and overall life support systems for hundreds of thousands of communities worldwide, are also being threatened.

The report calls on governments to better protect river flows and water allocations in order to safeguard habitats and people’s livelihoods.

“Conservation of rivers and wetlands must be seen as part and parcel of national security, health and economic success,” Pittock 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 jeopardizing nature’s ability to meet our growing demands,” says Pittock. “We must change our mindset now or pay the price in the not so distant future.”


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