Published on Tuesday, March 20, 2007 by Reuters
Many Major Rivers are in Danger of Dying: WWF
by Nita Bhalla
NEW DELHI - Climate change, pollution, over extraction of water and development are killing some of the world's most famous rivers including China's Yangtze, India's Ganges and Africa's Nile, conservation group WWF said on Tuesday.
At the global launch of its report "World's Top 10 Rivers at Risk", the Geneva-based group said many rivers could dry out, affecting hundreds of millions of people and killing unique aquatic life.
"If these rivers die, millions will lose their livelihoods, biodiversity will be destroyed on a massive scale, there will be less fresh water and agriculture, resulting in less food security," said Ravi Singh, secretary-general of WWF-India.
The report, launched ahead of 'World Water Day' on Thursday, also cited the Rio Grande in the United States, the Mekong and Indus in Asia, Europe's Danube, La Plata in South America and Australia's Murray-Darling as in need of greater protection.
Rivers are the world's main source of fresh water and WWF says about half of the available supply is already being used up.
Dams have destroyed habitats and cut rivers off from their flood plains, while climate change could affect the seasonal water flows that feed them, the report said.
Fish populations, the top source of protein and overall life support for hundreds of thousands of communities worldwide, are also being threatened, it found.
The Yangtze basin is one of the most polluted rivers in the world because of decades of heavy industrialization, damming and huge influxes of sediment from land conversion.
Climate change, including higher temperatures, also means devastating consequences for fishery productivity, water supply and political security in Africa's arid Nile basin.
The Ganges basin makes up almost a third of India's land area and one in twelve people in the world depend on this river for activities such as fishing and farming, the WWF said.
The river, sacred for Hindus, is at the center of many of the country's social and religious traditions.
It is home to more than 140 fish species, 90 amphibian species and the endangered Ganges river dolphin.
But WWF said tributaries flowing into the Ganges are drying up as barrages divert large amounts of water for irrigation.
Water quality is also deteriorating and climate change will have a serious impact as glaciers -- which account for 30 to 40 percent of the Ganges water -- retreat.
"The Ganges is our power, it is our purity as it washes all our sins away and we must do something to save it," said Hindu priest Akhilesh Kumar Sharma from the northern town of Narora on the banks of the Ganges.
© Reuters 2007.