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In Lira, Uganda the Medicins Sans Frontieres is a Nutritional Feeding Program clinic helping HIV or malnutrition children.

The Freshwater Health Index

Fresh water sustains ecosystems — and human life. That means we must take care of the lakes, rivers and wetlands that provide it for us.

© Jamie Rose/Aurora Photos

The U.N. estimates that half of the people on Earth will likely face water stress by 2030. Competition for water for drinking, food production and maintaining healthy ecosystems that protect against floods or help regulate a stable climate all place growing demands on freshwater resources. And because water flows through — and links together — many different habitats, upstream activities directly impact downstream water users. To ensure water security into the future, we must better understand, manage and value our freshwater ecosystems.

Our role

Conservation International is a founding partner of the Freshwater Health Index, a tool that measures the overall condition of freshwater ecosystems and their capacity to support healthy and economically-sustainable populations. The Index is designed to provide guidance to decision-makers that will lead to better management — and will help meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Our plan

Assess freshwater ecosystem health

The Freshwater Health Index assesses the status and trends of benefits that people receive from freshwater ecosystems, including clean water, fish and recreational uses. It provides links between governance, stakeholders, their impacts on ecosystems and the consequences for ecosystem services.

Evaluate tradeoffs

The Index can help users identify vulnerabilities or opportunities within a basin as well as potential impacts from climate change, land use change and infrastructure development. By exploring tradeoffs, decision-makers can make better choices that balance the sustainability of water resources with social equity.

Catalyze change

A data-rich, user-friendly website will provide a range of stakeholders — from water managers and planners to communities, businesses, civil society organizations and policymakers — with the information they need to make better-informed decisions and help reverse the trends of freshwater ecosystem degradation and loss.

 

 It is unclear how far past any planetary boundary we have pushed our water-based support services ... but to make the definitive judgment will require good information and good people. 

Charles J Vörösmarty et al., “Global water, the anthropocene and the transformation of a science” (2013)

Our solutions

The Freshwater Health Index is being tested initially in two test-beds in the heavily populated Asia-Pacific region, where decision-makers are confronting pressures from rapid urbanization, declines in water quality and quantity, and climate change impacts such as increased exposure to floods and droughts.

  • The Lower Mekong Basin in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam directly supports the livelihoods of more than 60 million people. Here we are testing the Freshwater Health Index in the Sesan, Sreypok, Sekong River basin and the basin of Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Great Lake; and
  • The Dongjiang River in the Pearl River system is the water source for almost 40 million people in southern China and provides 80% of Hong Kong’s fresh water.

Following application in the first two test beds, the Freshwater Health Index will be applied to a representative set of basins globally.

From the blog