Conserving freshwater ecosystem services

WWF is working to mainstream the consideration of freshwater ecosystem services into development plans, especially those related to poverty, basic needs, sanitation, food, and energy.
Broadly defined, "ecosystem services" are the benefits people derive from nature. Some are obvious, like drinking water. Some are less obvious – and easier to take for granted – like crop pollination, prevention of soil erosion or protection from storms.

When freshwater habitats are destroyed, we lose the beneficial ecosystem services they provide to people. This undermines the sustained well-being of future generations, and directly affects the livelihoods of many rural poor who depend on these services.

Sustainable development requires an ecosystem-based approach to wetland management that considers the values and benefits of different ecosystem services provided by freshwater habitats.

To this end, WWF is working with governments, development groups, and aid agencies to:
  • Ensure that international and national work on delivering the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) has clear and good references to freshwater habitat protection and integrity, with reference to environmental flows
  • Ensure that national Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers incorporate and address freshwater habitat protection and integrity
  • Demonstrate solutions to sanitation and freshwater conservation
  • Demonstrate the socio-economic benefits of freshwater ecosystem conservation
For more information: Millenium Ecosystem Assessment – Ecosystems and human well-being: Wetlands and water (pdf)

This work forms a cross-cutting issue that is integrated into all WWF's work on water stewardship, water security, and freshwater habitat protection.

Learn more about one project that's helping secure water and sanitation for the urban poor.

The Living Ganges Project


Freshwater and the MDGs

Millenium Development Goal Freshwater ecosystem linkage
1. Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger Freshwater aquatic species such as fish, crustaceans, and aquatic plants are sources of medicine and food
2. Achieve universal primary education Water-related diseases such as diarrhea infections cost about 4.4 billion school days each year and diminish learning potential
3. Promote gender equality and empower women Woman and girls are often the ones responsible for collecting water, an assignment that gets more difficult when water gets degraded
4. Reduce child mortality Water-related diseases kill an estimated 3 million people every year in developing countries, the majority of whom are children under the age of 5
5. Improve maternal health Provision of clean water reduces the incidences of diseases that undermine maternal health and contribute to maternal mortality
6. Combat major diseases The continued degradation of water quality will increase the prevalence of disease, especially for vulnerable people in developing countries where technological fixes and alternatives are not readily available.
7. Ensure environmental sustainability According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, freshwater ecosystems are the most degraded of all ecosystems, with about 50% of inland water systems being lost during the 20th century.
8. Develop a global partnership for development Unfair globalization practices export harmful side-effects. For example, extensive trade of so-called “virtual water” from water-scarce areas – which often lack effective governance – to regions with water abundance is aggravating global water stress.

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