Report: World’s rivers in ‘crisis’ state

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From Green Right Now Reports

The world’s rivers are in a crisis of unprecedented proportion,  according to a new global analysis to be published Sept.30 in the journal Nature.

The report claims to be the first to simultaneously account for the effects of such things as pollution, dam building, agricultural runoff, the conversion of wetlands and the introduction of exotic species.

According to the authors, the portrait that emerges is grim: Nearly 80 percent of the world’s human population lives in areas where river waters are highly jeopardized, 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.

“Rivers around the world really are in a crisis state,” says Peter B. McIntyre, a senior author of the study and a professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Limnology.

The report was produced by an international team co-led by Charles J. Vörösmarty of City University of New York, an expert on global water resources, and McIntyre, an expert on freshwater biodiversity.

Fresh water is generally regarded as the world’s most essential natural resource, a basis for human life and economic development as well as for the existence of countless organisms ranging from microscopic life to fish, amphibians, birds and terrestrial animals.

“Flowing rivers represent the largest single renewable water resource for humans,” notes Vörösmarty. “What we’ve discovered is that when you map out these many sources of threat, you see a fully global syndrome of river degradation.”

Among the sobering conclusions 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.

“What made our jaws drop is that some of the highest threat levels in the world are in the United States and Europe,” says McIntyre, who began work on the project as a Smith Fellow at the University of Michigan. “Americans tend to think water pollution problems are pretty well under control, but we still face enormous challenges.”

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