Story | 21 May, 2013

Biodiversity and water: two of a kind

Today we celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity. Its theme, Water and Biodiversity, coincides with the designation of 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation and highlights the indispensible role of nature in our water security and the sustainable development of our planet.

Water is life. Our well-being, food security, health, sanitation and most economic activities directly depend on it – but it is nature that makes it possible for us to use it.

Nature provides us with infrastructure that complements man-made levees, dams, canals and reservoirs in a cost-effective and sustainable way.

Aquifers, soils, lakes and wetlands store water. Wetlands and soils filter it. Rivers transport it. Floodplains and wetlands lower flood peaks in downstream cities. Mangroves, coral reefs protect coasts against storms and flooding. All of these services from nature contribute to our water security, our health and our livelihoods.

“IUCN scientists estimate that up to one million species rely on freshwater habitats and millions more, including human beings, rely on food, freshwater and many other services supplied by these precious ecosystems,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “On this International Day for Biodiversity, I encourage you to show your care for our lakes, rivers, wetlands and other freshwater ecosystems. Freshwater is truly our life support system on this planet and we must all do our part to protect it.”

Where ecosystems degrade, biodiversity is lost and so is the precious natural infrastructure we depend on. If we fail to account for ecosystem services - invest in them, protect them and sustain them – we will no longer be able to rely on them for our water security and sustainable development. If we invest in nature and its services, it will offer us solutions for water security and other development challenges.

“Effective management of ecosystems requires us to know how well the species within them are doing,” says William Darwall, Head - Freshwater Biodiversity Unit, IUCN Species Programme. “Over the past 10 years, IUCN has been working to provide that information by assessing the status of more than 20,000 freshwater-dependent species on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. However, this information is still lacking for many regions. IUCN’s Global Species Programme is working to fill this gap.”

Through the EU-funded BIOFRESH project, IUCN is providing key scientific data on the status and trends of global freshwater biodiversity to develop an information platform for scientists and ecosystem managers from around the world.

IUCN is also supporting biodiversity research for the Trans-boundary Waters Assessment Programme (TWAP). We assess the state of trans-boundary basins in order to prioritize their needs and direct funds where they are most needed. Using data from The IUCN Red List, IUCN is developing an index for the ecological condition of trans-boundary river ecosystems, and the threats they are facing.

“Today we celebrate and focus international attention on the importance of biodiversity and water,” says Mark Smith, Director of IUCN’s Global Water Programme. “However, these two engines of life should be celebrated every day as our livelihoods, health and prosperity rely on them. With wise investments in ecosystem services and good water governance, biodiversity can thrive, supporting access and availability to clean water, and providing us with Water Security - a key pillar for human well-being.”