Consisting of 24 projects worldwide, the action is a result of concerns expressed at the Second World Water Forum, last March, that by 2025 nearly a third of the world’s population will face serious shortages of fresh water. The IUCN’s 2000 Red List of Threatened Species is also signalling an extremely serious deterioration in river-dwelling species, according to the Conservation Union. Currently, 30% of all freshwater fish species are threatened, and estimates also indicate that over 800 other freshwater species are at risk of extinction.

“This initiative fills the missing link in the water discussions, which usually focused on the distribution of water, not on where that water comes from,” said Dr Maritta von Bieberstein Koch-Weser, Director General of the IUCN. “Healthy ecosystems renew our water and provide the clean water to support all life on earth, humans as well as [other] species.”

According to the IUCN, projects will focus on protecting, restoring and managing ecosystems that provide clean water and other services to communities. As well as encouraging sustainable water use, the projects are designed to empower local communities, and to work on the governance of river basins by examining and developing legal and financial tools.

The IUCN has gained considerable experience in freshwater management issues, says the conservation union, such as in the Waza Logone floodplain in Cameroon. In this instance, the IUCN project has included floodplain restoration, training of local communities, and the provision of clean water through 37 wells, resulting in increased biodiversity, and the improved livelihoods and health of the local communities.

“The projects come from people in the field, with direct experience of the difficult issues involved,” said Ger Bergkamp, IUCN Freshwater Management Advisor, and co-ordinator of the initiative. “The initiative is at the heart of the concerns of the IUCN membership and will bridge the gap between global policy and practices in the field. It will show that development, protecting water resources and nature conservation can go hand in hand.”

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