People & Freshwater

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Tropical Rain Forest. Flower on riverbank - moist forest of the Western Congo Basin at the edge of Minkebe Reserve. Gabon
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY

Human civilization was born on a river bank.

And for thousands of years, the relationship was a relatively benign one.
However, in the last 50 years, we have altered ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any other period in history.

Rapid population growth, economic development and industrialization have led to the unprecedented transformation of freshwater ecosystems and consequent biodiversity loss.

Today, 41% of the world’s population lives in river basins under water stress.

And the threats to freshwater ecosystems are immense.

More than 20% of the world’s 10,000 freshwater species have become extinct, threatened or endangered in recent decades.

Freshwater environments tend to have the highest proportion of species threatened with extinction.

Now, the use of capture fisheries and freshwater is well beyond levels that can be sustained at current, much less future demands.

Physical alteration, habitat loss and degradation, water extraction, over-exploitation, pollution and the introduction of invasive species threaten the planet’s freshwater ecosystems and their associated biological resources.

Although there is increasing concern for the maintenance of freshwater biodiversity and the goods and services it provides, the demand for water itself is rapidly increasing as well.

Thus there is an ever increasing need and urgency for improved management of freshwater ecosystems.
Freshwater ecosystems are the rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, groundwater, cave water, springs, floodplains, and wetlands (bogs, marshes, and swamps).

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Freshwater ecosystems provide water for drinking, sanitation, agriculture, transport, electricity generation and recreation. They also provide valuable but often unaccounted for regulation of floods, droughts, nutrients and sediments.
Freshwater ecosystems are also habitat for diverse animals and plants. These can in turn provide an important source of food and fibre that sustains livelihoods, particularly for rural communities in developing countries.

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