Water use threatens 21% of African freshwater species

At least 21% of freshwater species in continental Africa are threatened with extinction putting the livelihoods of millions of people at risk, according to the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species.

The list is calling for more inland waters to be managed, not just for their supply of freshwater, but also to sustain the abundant life within.

In the most comprehensive assessment of its kind, 5,167 African freshwater species were monitored by 200 scientists over a five-year period for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, including all known freshwater fish, molluscs, crabs, dragonflies and damselflies, and selected families of aquatic plants.

Some of the biggest threats to African freshwater species come from agriculture, water abstraction, dams and invasive alien species.

The results are particularly important for resource managers as, for the first time says the list, species have been mapped to individual river basins.

“Freshwaters provide a home for a disproportionate level of the world’s biodiversity. Although they cover just one per cent of the planet’s surface, freshwater ecosystems are actually home to around seven per cent of all species,” said deputy head of IUCN’s Species Programme, Jean-Christophe Vié.

“This latest IUCN Red List assessment clearly shows that lakes, rivers and wetlands haven’t escaped the grasp of the current extinction crisis.”

Even the loss of a single species can have a dramatic impact on livelihoods. In Lake Malawi, a group of fish, known as ‘chambo’ by locals, forms an extremely important source of food.

Of these, Oreochromis karongae, an endangered species, has been hugely overfished, with an estimated 70% reduction in the population over the past ten years.

Luke Walsh

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