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WWF launches Emergency Recovery Plan that could halt catastrophic collapse in world’s freshwater biodiversity
Published today in BioScience, the Emergency Recovery Plan calls for the world to take urgent steps to tackle the threats that have led to an 83% collapse in freshwater species populations and the loss of 30% of freshwater ecosystems since 1970 – ecosystems that provide us with water, food, livelihoods, and protection from floods, droughts and storms.
Developed by a global team of scientists from WWF, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Conservation International, Cardiff University and other eminent organizations and academic institutions, this is the first comprehensive plan to protect and restore freshwater habitats, which host more species per square kilometer than land or oceans – and are losing this extraordinary biodiversity two or three times faster.
The six-point plan prioritizes solutions that are rooted in cutting edge science and have already proven successful in certain locations: letting rivers flow more naturally, reducing pollution, protecting critical wetland habitats, ending over-fishing and unsustainable sand mining in rivers and lakes, controlling invasive species, and safeguarding and restoring river connectivity through better planning of dams and other infrastructure.
“Nowhere is the biodiversity crisis more acute than in the world’s rivers, lakes and wetlands
– with over a quarter of freshwater species now heading for extinction. The Emergency Recovery Plan can halt this decades-long decline and restore life to our dying freshwater ecosystems, which underpin all of our societies and economies,” said Dave Tickner, WWF- UK Chief Freshwater Advisor and lead author on the paper.
Covering approximately 1% of the Earth’s surface, rivers, lakes and freshwater wetlands are home to 10% of all species and more described fish species than in all the world’s oceans. But they are rapidly disappearing with populations of freshwater megafauna – such as river dolphins, sturgeon, beavers, crocodiles and giant turtles – crashing by 88% in the past half century.
“The causes of the global collapse in freshwater biodiversity are no secret, yet the world has consistently failed to act, turning a blind eye to the worsening crisis even though healthy freshwater ecosystems are central to our survival. The Emergency Recovery Plan provides an ambitious roadmap to safeguarding freshwater biodiversity – and all the benefits it provides to people across the world,” said co-author, Professor Steven Cooke of Carleton University in Canada.
The Emergency Recovery Plan highlights a variety of measures that together will transform the management and health of rivers, lakes and wetlands, such as treating more than 20% of sewage before it is flushed into nature, avoiding dams on the world’s remaining free flowing rivers, and expanding and strengthening protected areas in partnership with local communities.
“All the solutions in the Emergency Recovery Plan have been tried and tested somewhere in the world: they are realistic, pragmatic and they work. We are calling on governments, investors, companies and communities to prioritize freshwater biodiversity – often neglected by the conservation and water management worlds. Now is the time to implement these solutions, before it is too late,” said James Dalton, Director of IUCN’s Global Water Programme.
“We have the last opportunity to create a world with rivers and lakes that once again teem with wildlife, and with wetlands that are healthy enough to sustain our communities and cities, but only if we stop treating them like sewers and wastelands,” said Tickner. “This decade will be critical for freshwater biodiversity: countries must seize the chance to keep our life support systems running by ensuring freshwater conservation and restoration are central to a New Deal for Nature and People”.
Critically, with governments meeting in November to agree on a new global deal to conserve and restore biodiversity at a landmark conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity- CBD, the authors recommend some new targets, including on restoring water flows, controlling illegal and unregulated sand mining in rivers, and improving management of freshwater fisheries that feed hundreds of millions of people. Therefore, WWF in Zambia calls for higher ambitions and setting of higher national targets for enhancing freshwater biodiversity protection through its national CBD strategies and supportive policies, as well as calls for a crystal clear position during the COP 15 meeting scheduled to take place in China as which the global framework will be adopted. This extremely important as Zambia’s biodiversity faces a number of challenges and threats. Freshwater biodiversity in particular faces threats from water pollution, damming of rivers, bad fishing practices, threats of invasive species, uncoordinated planning and land use, and unsustainable agricultural practices. Given this there is need for the Government in Zambia to strengthen the implementation of the convention on Biodiversity targets.
WWF Zambia makes a further call on the Zambian Government to embrace key recommendations in the Emergency Recovery Plan for freshwater biodiversity which offers quick solutions to addressing current freshwater biodiversity threats and challenges above. WWF Zambia calls the government to urgent action particularly around the Zambezi river basin which is a major source of freshwater water not only in Zambia but in eight other riparian states. This basin faces great challenges arising from competing demands for water usage ranging from energy generation, abstraction for crop irrigation purposes as well as domestic and industrial uses. Zambia recently discovered uranium deposits in the North-western part of the country in the upper Zambezi river basin and mining is currently under way. Recognizing that uranium is a highly radioactive material and Zambia being a member of the international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), It is incumbent upon the Zambian Government to ensure there is maximum protection at all times. The greatest threat is contamination of the river Zambezi which is home to about 65 million people amongst the 8 countries that share this resource.