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The Daly river is part of the Daly catchment that flows from Northern Territory to central Northern Territory - © Julian Murphy / WWF-Aus

The Daly river is part of the Daly catchment that flows from Northern Territory to central Northern Territory - © Julian Murphy / WWF-Aus

Protecting river flows is critical for global water supplies and sustainable development

18 Sep 2017

  • ecosystem
  • environmental laws
  • freshwater
With nearly half the world’s population affected by water scarcity and demand for freshwater continuing to soar, a global WWF report released on 18th September at the 20th International Riversymposium in Brisbane shows how governments can successfully protect and restore river flows – helping to ensure sufficient water for people and nature.

Around a third of all river basins are already being heavily depleted and there is increasing pressure to pump even more water from the world’s rivers to meet the needs of a growing population and rapidly expanding towns and cities. Many rivers now run dry or barely flow, severely impacting local communities, national development and global biodiversity.

Listen to the River: Lessons from a global review of environmental flow success stories looks at how governments across the globe have taken significant steps in the past decade towards ensuring healthier rivers.

“Healthy rivers are the lifeblood of thriving communities and economies and this report provides real hope by showing that river flows can be protected or restored despite all the dams, diversions and increasing demands,” said Dave Tickner, Chief Freshwater Advisor WWF-UK and one of the authors of the report. “The challenges are immense but it is clear that concerted, collective action can meet the needs of healthy rivers and the people and wildlife that depend on them,” added Tickner.

Efforts to overcome these challenges have often struggled to make any headway due to a lack of political will, insufficient resources and institutional barriers. However, many success stories have emerged – including the eight from Australia, China, England, India, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa and the USA featured in this report – which all highlight the benefits of better management of river flows for society and ecosystems.

“Ensuring enough clean water flows through the world’s rivers is fundamental to the goal of providing ‘water for all' and will contribute significantly towards the achievement of many other Sustainable Development Goals, including reducing poverty and hunger,” said Tickner.

“Restoring river flows will never be easy, whether it’s a small chalk stream in southern England or the vast Yangtze River in China, but we now have the necessary scientific knowledge and a host of success stories to learn from,” said Tickner. “Now it is up to governments, water management agencies, financial institutions, the private sector, and NGOs to collaborate to improve the health of the world’s rivers – and there is no time to waste.”

Along with publication of WWF’s report, global efforts to restore and protect river flows are expected to receive another major boost at this year’s Riversymposium. On the 10th anniversary of the Brisbane Declaration, participants are likely to adopt significant revisions to the original text, which will explicitly show the importance of environmental flows to the SDGs and other international agreements.

Download Listen to the River

The full report can be downloaded here

Go here to find out about the free exhibition Water Stories – the global water crisis in pictures, on show in Brisbane until 26 September 2017.

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