In a new report called Pipedreams? Inter-basin transfers and water shortages the WWF makes its case on how inter-basin transfers are costly schemes that damage the natural environment, interrupting flows between rivers and compromising their ability to provide food and water.

Increasingly popular schemes to pour water from one river into another – aiming to offset flooding and drought – are putting the very source of life at risk, the WWF says.

“An overemphasis on engineering to address growing water needs is an artificial way to fix the water crisis,” said Jamie Pittock, director of WWF’s Global Freshwater Programme.

“More lasting is a commitment to healthy rivers and wetlands as the first step to water conservation, complemented by other methods as sustainable as possible and only if necessary.”

The report explores schemes completed in Australia, South Africa and Spain and others proposed in Brazil, China, Greece and Peru.

Almost all cases share common flaws: cost overruns, insufficient transparency, irreversible damage to rivers, lack of stakeholder consultation, displacement of communities, planned benefits falling short, and a lack of exploration of alternative sustainable options.

The report says that along with dams and other highly technical approaches to make up for water shortages, transfer schemes entail elaborate systems of canals, pipes and dredging over long distances.

Already less than 40% of the world’s rivers over 1,000km long remain free-flowing and this fact along with the water crisis is no mere coincidence.

Jamie Pittock added: “In many cases, water transfer schemes are a ‘pipedream’, reflecting simplistic thinking that transferring water between rivers will solve the problem without bringing new ones. The solutions to the water crisis must be rooted in conserving wetlands while properly assessing and managing local demands for water.”

“We must also use traditional local water management methods where suitable and recycle waste water. Basin transfers must be the last resort after all other sustainable approaches have been explored.”

Dana Gornitzki

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