The World Water Forum in Marseille has firmly placed nature at the heart of its strategies for improving global water resources. This effectively changes the way the world looks at protecting this most valuable liquid asset, says IUCN.
“Nature complements built infrastructure, increasing efficiency and providing an alternative solution to building new infrastructure in many situations,” says IUCN’s Water Programme Director, Mark Smith. “Leaders of the water world are finally seeing sense as they include nature as an integral part of the solution to the global water crisis.”
Nature provides many services that are vital to sustainable water management. Forest soils, aquifers, lakes and wetlands provide water storage. Wetlands filter water, floodplains and wetlands lower flood peaks in downstream cities, while mangroves and coral reefs protect coasts from floods.
“The Forum clearly recognized that water-related biodiversity and ecosystem services are an integral part of water management infrastructure, as they provide substantive economic, social and environmental returns on investment at all levels,” adds Smith.
Natural ‘infrastructure’ is the backbone of the green economy and the benefits of investing in it often exceed the costs. New York spent US$1.5 billion on ecosystem management rather than $6 billion on a water filtration plant. Private companies and NGOs in Quito, Ecuador are building a trust fund for watershed management, now worth US$8 million.
“Participants at the Forum this year have made it clear that they will take action for the valuation of costs and benefits associated with the protection and sustainable use of water-related ecosystems in all projects,” says Smith.
IUCN welcomes the Forum’s ministerial declaration, in which 130 countries urged the upcoming UN Rio Summit on Sustainable Development to speed action on providing the poor with access to clean water and sanitation and fix worsening problems of water scarcity and pollution.
“The message to Rio must be loud and clear that the time is right for investing in nature if we are to have any chance of building a sustainable economic future,” says IUCN Director General, Julia Marton-Lefèvre.
Natural solutions to the water crisis will be discussed further at IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Jeju Island, Korea, 5-15 September 2012.
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