This year the International Day for Biological Diversity celebrates “Water and Biodiversity”. In view of the importance of water to sustainable development, and pressing problems with water availability and quality, the theme focuses on the solutions provided by biodiversity to meet water-related challenges. It was chosen to coincide with the International Year of Water Cooperation 2013.
Water is required to support biodiversity. Without sufficient water, stresses on species increase global biodiversity losses. In turn, biodiversity is critical to the maintenance of both the quality and quantity of water supplies and plays a vital but often under-acknowledged role in the water cycle.
Biodiversity is not just another factor – it is as crucial to the living world as is cultural diversity. Both sources of diversity are linked, and the future that we want to build depends on our collective ability to safeguard them both.
The water cycle is influenced heavily by ecosystems and the life associated with them. Forests, grasslands, soils, wetlands all influence water. Vegetated land cover regulates water movement across land and water infiltration into soils. Wetlands in particular have particularly visible hydrological functions such as the ability to store water, thereby helping us to regulate floods. Biodiversity supports water and nutrient cycling in soils and therefore plants, including all food crops. Together these processes control land erosion and regulate water quality. These ecosystem services constitute a “natural water infrastructure”, which offer cost-effective and sustainable solutions that can work in parallel with man-made infrastructures such as dams, pipelines, water treatment plants, irrigation systems, drainage networks and flood management embankments.
Natural Solutions for Water Security
Water is a renewable but a finite resource. It can be recycled but not replaced, and faces severe pressure from increasing demands to satisfy the needs of a growing population, rapid urbanization, pollution and climate change. Cooperation is essential to strike a balance between the different needs and priorities and share this precious resource equitably.
Ecosystems and their biodiversity should not be viewed as consumers of water, but as essential elements of natural infrastructure within water management.
Without ecosystems, and the complex biological relationships and processes that they support, the quantity and quality of global water resources would be severely compromised. The current paradigm, in which water and biodiversity are managed separately, is obsolete.
Freshwater, biodiversity, ecosystem function and human development are closely interconnected. Restoring the natural infrastructure, i.e. restoring degraded ecosystems and conserving their biodiversity, can be a key driver of economic growth and poverty reduction while contributing to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.