October 07, 2010
from PreventDisease Website
The world's rivers, the single largest renewable
water resource for humans and a crucible of aquatic biodiversity, are in a
crisis of ominous proportions, according to a new global analysis.
The resulting portrait of the global riverine environment, according to the scientists who conducted the analysis, is grim.
It reveals that nearly 80 percent of the world's human population lives in areas where river waters are highly threatened posing a major threat to human water security and resulting in aquatic environments where thousands of species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction.
The Nature report was authored by an
international team co-led by Charles J. Vörösmarty of the City
University of New York, an expert on global water resources, and McIntyre,
an expert on freshwater biodiversity.
Fresh water is widely regarded as the world's
most essential natural resource, underpinning human life and economic
development as well as the existence of countless organisms ranging from
microscopic life to fish, amphibians, birds and terrestrial animals of all
Rivers, in particular, have attracted humans and have been altered through damming, irrigation and other agricultural and engineering practices since the advent of civilization. In recent times, chemical pollution, burgeoning human populations, and the accidental as well as purposeful global redistribution of plants, fish, and other animal species have had far-reaching effects on rivers and their aquatic inhabitants.
What jumps out, say McIntyre and Vörösmarty, is that rivers in different parts of the world are subject to similar types of stresses, such things as,
...and other factors.
Compounding the problem is that some of the negative influences on rivers arrive in indirect ways.
Mercury pollution, for example, is a byproduct of electricity generation at coal-fired power plants and pollutes surface water via the atmosphere.
Among the startling conclusions of the study is that rivers in the developed world, including much of the United States and Western Europe, are under severe threat despite decades of attention to pollution control and investments in environmental protection.
Huge investments in water technology and treatment reduce threats to humans, but mainly in developed nations, and leave biodiversity in both developed and developing countries under high levels of threat, according to the new report.
The hard lessons learned by the developed world,
says McIntyre, can help governments and planners in other parts of the world
avoid making the same mistakes and experiment with new strategies for
promoting water security and protecting biodiversity. Instead of investing
billions of dollars in expensive remediation technologies, strategies such
as protecting watersheds, for example, can reduce the costs of drinking
water treatment, preserve floodplains for flood protection and enhance rural
The same strategy and data, say Vörösmarty and McIntyre, can be used by governments worldwide to assess river health and improve approaches to protecting human and biodiversity interests.
The work underpinning the study was funded by:
The work was also supported by: