Protect water to save money

Protecting the world's watersheds secures freshwater for some of its biggest cities and saves billions of dollars, say conservationists gathered for a major summit this week.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published a compilation of case studies ahead of this month’s World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey showing how well-protected water basins can save megacities massive costs and logistical problems.

Mark Smith, head of the IUCN’s water programme, said last Friday (March 13): “Many of the world’s big cities have understood that protecting their catchment areas makes economic sense.

“Rather than chopping down the forests or draining their marshlands, they are keeping them healthy and saving billions of dollars by not having to pay for costly infrastructure to store water, clean it or bring it from elsewhere.”

Forests stabilise soils and marshes and wetlands act a a buffer against floods.

By protecting them cities are helping maintain healthy local watersheds and reaping the benefits.

The IUCN gives the example of Indonesian capital Jakarta, which gets its freshwater free from some 60 rivers originating in the nearby Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park.

By preserving nearby forest, which in turn protects the waterways from evaporation and erosion, it gets an economical, reliable water supply and avoids more expensive water importation from reservoirs further afield.

Researchers estimate it is worth some US$1.5 billion ( £1.1 billion).

Meanwhile, Venezuelan capital Caracas relies on the rivers from Guatopo and Macarao National Parks for its freshwater saving money on the installation of pipes and pumps to bring it in from elsewhere.

These waterways provide a constant flow to the city’s five million residents, who use some 17,000 litres per second.

Two thirds of the world face water shortages by 2025, according to Switzerland-based IUCN forecasts.

A shortage of clean water set against growing demand can spark conflict and spread disease, threatening economic development in developing nations, the United Nations has warned.

This underlines the importance of protecting watersheds – a region of land that drains into a specific body of water and is determined by the surrounding topography.

David Sheppard, head of the IUCN’s programme on protected areas, said: “Healthy river systems are essential to maintain the livelihoods of local communities. The objectives of sustainable development can only be achieved if nature continues to provide freshwater that everyone needs.”

David Gibbs

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