One out of five freshwater species in Africa is threatened with extinction, putting at risk millions of people whose food supplies and livelihoods would be harmed by major species loss.
That’s the alarming message from a new report by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) – released just in time for this week’s celebration of World Water Week.
The report is based on a five-year assessment of 5,167 African freshwater species like fish, mollusks, crabs, dragonflies, damselflies and some aquatic plants. By showing the plight of Africa’s disappearing freshwater species, the report demonstrates the importance of taking steps to conserve inland waters – and underscores the close link between ecosystem health and human well-being.
The importance of freshwater ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems such as lakes, rivers and wetlands cover just 1 percent of the world’s surface. But they contain an estimated 7 percent of the world’s species.
Unfortunately, these ecosystems, and the species living in them, are at risk due to threats including agriculture, dams, invasive alien species and water abstraction (i.e., the removal of water for drinking).
The risk to these ecosystems, in turn, endangers people. Many of Africa’s poorest people rely on fish, whether it’s to get protein in their diets or to catch the fish for a living. It’s estimated that 7.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa depend on inland fisheries.
Yet in Lake Victoria, the continent’s largest lake by area, an estimated 45 percent of fish species are threatened or thought to be extinct. Fisheries relied upon by the residents of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – the countries that border Lake Victoria – are at risk.
Don’t think the importance of freshwater species is limited to fish, either. Mollusks, to cite just one example, provide crucial water filtration services that give people clean water to drink.
Freshwater ecosystems around the world, and the biodiversity they support, are a global conservation priority. And with good reason: Freshwater satisfies our most basic needs. Reliable sources of water are crucial to all life on Earth, including humanity.
At Conservation International (CI), we work with existing and new partners to set global, science-based priorities for freshwater conservation. Our work with the IUCN to determine the status of freshwater biodiversity around the world is just one of those efforts.
Today, for example, a CI team is attending World Water Week – a meeting of scientists, policy-makers, governments, scientists and community activists who are gathered to respond to the global challenge of preserving freshwater ecosystems.