On the sidelines of the United Nations (UN) Water Conference, which closed on 24 March 2023 in New York in the United States of America, six countries launched the "Freshwater Challenge". This is an initiative that aims to restore 300,000 km of degraded rivers and wetlands around the world by 2030.
A new river restoration initiative will soon be rolled out in Africa and elsewhere in the world. It is the “Freshwater Challenge” announced on 22 March 2023 by the governments of Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ecuador, Gabon, Mexico and Zambia in a coalition. This was on the sidelines of the United Nations (UN) Water Conference held from 22 to 24 March 2023 in New York, United States of America.
The initiative aims to restore 300,000 km of watercourses (rivers, lakes, streams) by 2030. Over the years, these bodies of water have been degraded, both by climate change and by human activities. “On average, 80% of the world’s wastewater is discharged directly into water bodies without prior treatment,” says the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). As a result, populations of freshwater species have declined by 81%, more than double the losses observed in terrestrial and oceanic species. UNEP estimates that since 1900, about 70% of the world’s inland water bodies have disappeared. These reserves are essential to the survival, health and livelihoods of populations.
Strengthening territorial planning
The implementation of the ‘Freshwater Challenge’ is therefore intended to be inclusive and collaborative. “Governments and their partners will create freshwater solutions in collaboration with indigenous peoples, local communities and other stakeholders,” says UNEP. Appropriate frameworks will also be set up to reverse the trend, also for the benefit of nature.
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The Freshwater Challenge will also focus on providing the necessary elements at the national level to effectively design and implement restoration measures, identify priority areas for restoration, update relevant national plans and strategies, mobilise resources and put in place financial mechanisms to achieve the goals. “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,” said Susana Muhamad, Colombia’s Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development at the presentation of the initiative on 22 March 2023.
Restoring 350 million wetlands
Supported by the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, the Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), The Nature Conservancy, Wetlands International and ABinBev, the ‘Freshwater Challenge’ also aims to restore 350 million hectares of wetlands by 2035. These areas, which absorb about 50% of carbon dioxide (CO2), have been undermined for many years by humans through pollution and overexploitation. “Zambia is determined to take up the “Freshwater Challenge” to build a more resilient future. In addition to the recently launched Magoye River Basin Restoration Project, the country is restoring the Lukanga Swamps, which provide much of the water needed in Lusaka,” says Chola Milambo, Zambia’s Permanent Representative to the UN.
In addition to absorbing CO2, wetlands also serve as breeding grounds for many species of fish and other aquatic animals. “The Freshwater Challenge will encourage all governments to commit to clear targets in their updated National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Implementation Plans for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in order to urgently restore healthy freshwater ecosystems,” UNEP says.