Pan-Africa Freshwater Biodiversity Assessment

In January 2005 we received funding from the European Commission to initiate a five-year project (which was lately extended to six-years) to assess the status of freshwater biodiversity throughout Africa and to demonstrate the application of these data in environment / development planning at four demonstration sites.

The objectives for the project were:

  • The conservation and sustainable use of freshwater biodiversity throughout Africa in the face of widespread plans for large-scale water resource developments
  • Safeguarding the livelihoods of those millions of people in Africa dependant upon the goods and services provided by biodiversity in inland waters

This project was funded by the European Commission, with project co-financing from the IUCN National Committee for the Netherlands (Ecosystem Grants Programme), IUCN Water and Nature Initiative (WANI), South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), South Africa Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity SAIAB, MAVA Fondation pour la Nature, International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC), Italian Ministry, and Spanish Ministry.


BACKGROUND: Why do we need information on freshwater biodiversity?

Goods and services from inland waters such as food provision, flood control and drinking water provide great economic benefits to many millions of people. However, despite these benefits, these valuable ecosystems and their component species are being degraded at alarming rates and it is often the poorest communities that suffer the most.

In addition, global development objectives are firmly focused to deal with the world’s freshwater supply crisis, and with the Millennium Development Goals set to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015 the stage is set for a potential large scale impact to freshwater ecosystems. Without the integration of information on the status and distribution of freshwater biodiversity within the decision-making and planning process the loss of freshwater biodiversity and related livelihoods will be potentially disastrous.

The specific objective for this project is to ensure that environmental planning for water resource developments throughout Africa is based on the integration of reliable information on the status, distribution and ecological requirements of freshwater biodiversity.


Pan Africa assessment regions

The distribution and status of all known species of freshwater fishes, molluscs, crabs, dragonflies and a selection of freshwater plants were assessed by a combination of regional and international experts within each of six geographic regions (see map on the left for the different regions as defined for the project). A species assessment includes information on its habitat preferences, distribution, populations, utilisation and value to livelihoods (where possible), and major threats. Each species’ extinction risk was assessed according to the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria

On completion of the assessments a review workshop was held within each region to provide a peer-review of each species assessment. An analysis of the combined datasets from each region provides a baseline for the status and distribution of Africa’s freshwater biodiversity.

Pan Africa project demonstration sites


Four case studies were conducted to demonstrate how the data sets, collated and analysed by the project, can be integrated into development planning and decision-making processes at the basin scale.



For each assessment region a series of species assessment workshops were run, where regional scientists were trained on how to assess the extinction risk for a species at both a global and regional scale using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria. They were also provided with a copy of, and trained on how to use, the IUCN Species Information Service database (SIS).


GIS training workshops tailored to spatial analysis of freshwater biodiversity were provided by The International Institute for Geo-information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) for those actively involved in conservation planning for freshwater systems in each region. Workshop participants were provided with the regional freshwater species GIS datasets, as generated through this project, and trained in the potential ways in which such data sets can be used in regional conservation and development planning.


Southern Africa Training Workshop
The workshop was held 19–23 May 2005 and was hosted by the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) at Grahamstown. Twenty-three participants attended the four-day workshop where the training and facilitation was provided by a team of four experts from the IUCN Species Programme, including two IUCN Red List Programme Officers.

Workshop report: IUCN/SSC Training Workshop for the SAIAB freshwater biodiversity assessment of Southern Africa ( PDF 492KB)

Western Africa Training Workshop
The workshop was held 25-28 July 2005 and was hosted by Wetlands International Regional Office for Africa. Twenty-seven participants attended the four-day workshop where four members of staff from the IUCN Species Programme conducted the training and facilitated the workshop.

Workshop report: IUCN/SSC Training Workshop for the Wetlands International freshwater biodiversity assessment of Western Africa ( PDF 596KB)

Northern Africa Training Workshop
The workshop was held in Rabat, Morocco, 5 – 9 February, 2007, coordinated by the project partner, IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation. A team of six experts from the IUCN Species Programme provided training and facilitation. Experts were selected from the workshop participants to undertake the Mediterranean and Northern Africa regional assessments for key freshwater taxa.

Central and Northeastern Africa Training Workshops
In both cases, training workshops were not held, with assessment experts contracted directly. In Central Africa, training was provided to regional fish experts as a result of additional funding received from the Ecosystem Grants Programme for the IUCN National Committee for the Netherlands.

GIS Training Workshops

Southern Africa GIS Training Workshop
The workshop was run by ITC trainers and hosted by SAIAB in the Rhodes University Geography Department GIS Laboratory in Grahamstown on July 17-21 2006. Fifteen fulltime participants from nine southern African countries attended the 5-day GIS training workshop for potential end-users of the IUCN freshwater biodiversity geodatabase.

Eastern Africa GIS Training Workshop
This workshop was held in Rwanda, hosted by CGIS-NUR, 11-15 December 2006.

Northern Africa GIS Training Workshop
This training workshop was held in Tunisia in January 2009.



Pan Africa Biodiversity Assessment Donors and Partners