Environmental News Archive

An almost weekly update of environmental news, particularly marine updates, with occasional splatters of transportation, indigenous, ideas of sustainability and sustainable development from around the world.


Mighty Rivers Running Dry

21 March 2007

Dams, climate change among threats facing Asia's waterways

GENEVA - Five rivers in Asia serving over 870 million people are among the
most threatened in the world, as dams, water extraction and climate change
all take their toll, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said yesterday.

The Yangtze, Salween-Nu, Indus, Ganges and Mekong-Lancang rivers make up
half of the WWF's 10 most threatened river basins, which "either already
suffer most grievously under the weight of these threats or are bracing
for the heaviest impacts", the WWF said in a report.

Governments are not doing enough to prevent freshwater systems from being
overexploited, the WWF said. As a result, about a fifth of the world's
10,000 freshwater species have either become extinct or are now

Only 21 of Earth's 177 longest rivers run freely from source to sea, with
dams and other forms of human construction destroying the habitats of
migratory fish and other species by altering the water's natural ebb and

The director of the WWF's Global Freshwater Programme, Mr Jamie Pittock,
said the threats facing river basins are varied and interlinked. He said
these problems require holistic policies, rather than efforts that target
just one aspect but can end up being counter-productive.

For example, "as governments become concerned about climate change
reducing water run-off, they build more dams to store more water, which
then results in more water being extracted from the rivers and so builds
up more ecological problems", Mr Pittock said. Many governments are also
focusing on hydro-electric power plants as a "clean" source of energy, but
this means more dams, which kill off fish populations, he added.

He warned of "dire consequences" if the situation is left unchecked, with
increasing risk of conflict over access to water, as well as the spread of
disease and a fall in nutrition standards.

The report highlighted water extraction, dams and climate change as the
threats that will have the most impact on people, though invasive species
and pollution also pose serious problems. This is particularly true for
China's Yangtze River basin. Decades of industrialisation, damming and the
huge influx of sediment from land conversion, have made the Yangtze one of
the world's most polluted rivers. - AGENCIES

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