A group of six African and Latin American nations on Thursday officially launched the Freshwater Challenge, an initiative to restore 300,000 km of rivers and 350 million hectares of wetlands by the end of the decade.
Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Gabon, Mexico, and Zambia announced the initiative on the sidelines of the ongoing UN Water Conference in New York, where global negotiators are addressing the water crisis.
At the same time they called on all other nations to set clear targets in updated national biodiversity strategies and action plans, as well as in plans under the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
“Healthy rivers, lakes and wetlands underpin our societies and economies, yet they are routinely undervalued and overlooked. That is what makes the commitment by [these] governments … so commendable. While countries have pledged to restore one billion hectares of land, the Freshwater Challenge is a critical first step in bringing a much-needed focus on freshwater ecosystems,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP.
The challenge was first announced at the biodiversity COP in Montreal in December, championed by Colombia, and was formally launched on Thursday.
Rivers, lakes, and wetlands have suffered the loss of as much as 83% of their population since 1970, and the initiative is a step towards mending that, building on the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which stipulates that 30% of global land and sea must be protected by 2030, including inland waters.
“This initiative is in line with the priorities of the National Development Plan 2022-2026, which will allow the country to strengthen Territorial Planning around Water by protecting all water systems from a perspective of water as a common resource and fundamental right. This implies the participation of communities to resolve socio-environmental conflicts, respecting cultural diversity and guaranteeing the conservation of biodiversity,” said Susana Muhamad, Colombia’s minister of environment and sustainable development.
The length of the rivers to be restored under the initiative is equivalent to seven times around the earth, while the involved wetland areas are larger than India, a press release said.
Organisations like the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands, WWF, IUCN the Nature Conservancy, Wetlands International, and AbinBev support the challenge and have pledged to assist the involved governments in their efforts.
The initiative will focus on providing evidence needed to effectively design and implement restoration measures, identify priority areas for restoration, update relevant strategies and plans, and mobilise resources and set up financial mechanisms to implement the targets, according to the press release.
“Protecting and restoring wetlands is a critical global priority – for the water we need, to tackle climate change and buffer extreme events, and to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. The Freshwater Challenge will help catalyse broad-based action and give effect to our common global goals,” said Musonda Mumba, secretary general at the Convention on Wetlands.
By Stian Reklev – email@example.com
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