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Scaling up investment in healthy freshwater ecosystems must be at the heart of UN Water Conference, says WWF

Posted on March, 21 2023

The first UN Water Conference in 46 years is an unprecedented opportunity to highlight the scale of the world’s water crises and build momentum for urgent action on water - and freshwater ecosystems.
While it is critical to focus on taps and toilets since billions of people still lack access to safe water and sanitation, participants and decision makers at this long awaited global summit on water must also prioritize the protection and restoration of healthy freshwater ecosystems - not only to boost water security but also to help tackle climate and nature crises.

Stuart Orr, WWF Global Freshwater Lead said:
“We can tackle the world’s worsening water crisis but only if we remember one of the world’s most forgotten facts - water does not come from a tap, it comes from nature.  The water sector will only achieve its goal of water for all, if it stops ignoring nature and instead starts urgently restoring nature.

Drastically scaling up investment in healthy rivers, lakes and wetlands is fundamental to ensuring water for all in an increasingly water stressed world. But protecting and restoring healthy freshwater ecosystems will do more than keep the taps and pipes and pumps flowing. Our freshwater life support systems are central to food security, adapting to increasing climate change-related droughts and floods, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Yet we continue to undervalue and overlook our rivers, lakes and wetlands. The clearest sign of the damage we have done - and are still doing - to these ecosystems is the 83% collapse in freshwater species populations since 1970. We’ve lost 1/3rd of the world’s wetlands in the same period. We need to start reversing this trend right now.

The water crisis is bad enough without climate change. But our rapidly warming world is going to make it much worse. But we can build resilient societies and economies, if governments and businesses urgently pursue policies, practices and investments that recognize - and restore - the full value of healthy rivers, lakes, and wetlands.

Countries have already recognised that we cannot keep undermining the foundation of our future resilience, by continuing to deplete nature. The Global Biodiversity Framework signed at the end of 2022, the IPCC report released this week and the Freshwater Challenge brought to this conference give a clear message:  we need action for nature now; we cannot survive the climate crisis without it.”
Fisherman of mekong river in action when fishing of sunrise
© Shutterstock / Suriya99 / WWF
Healthy Mura river sustains people and nature in 'Amazon of Europe'
© Matevž Lenarčič
A woman walks back to her village after collecting water from the river - Luangwa River, Zambia
© James Suter / Black Bean Productions / WWF-US