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March 11th, 2009
Protecting Watersheds Saves Billions

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Protecting watersheds provides many of the world’s megacities with
freshwater – and saves billions of dollars. This is the result of a new
compilation of case studies by IUCN, published today ahead of the World
Water Forum, held from 16-22 March in Istanbul, Turkey.
“Many of the world’s big cities have understood that protecting their catchment areas makes economic sense. Rather than chopping down the forests or draining their marshlands, they are keeping them healthy and saving billions of dollars by not having to pay for costly infrastructure to store water, clean it or bring it from elsewhere,” says Mark Smith, Head of IUCN’s Water Programme.

The Indonesian capital Jakarta gets its freshwater for free from some 60 rivers originating in the nearby Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park. The water is worth an estimated US$1.5 billion.

The Venezuelan capital Caracas relies on the rivers from Guatopo and Macarao National Parks for its freshwater provision. Today, those rivers continue to supply a constant flow of freshwater to the city’s 5 million inhabitants, consuming some 17 thousand litres of water per second.

Protecting freshwater sources also benefits nature. In and around South Africa’s Kruger National Park, better river management has helped improve water provision for some local rural communities – whilst at the same time preventing loss of aquatic life in the park.

“Kruger’s main five rivers have suffered from pollution and unsustainable water use upstream which led to some of them drying up completely. After implementing a large river-related programme with the agriculture, forestry and mining industries, we have seen an improvement in flows. Previously disappeared species have re-colonised, and fewer unnatural fish kills have occurred,” says Harry Biggs, Programme Integrator at South African National Parks and leader of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas Freshwater Task Force.

During drier times, expensive arrangements like water transfers and trucking of water had to be made to meet basic needs of some rural communities living along rivers near the park, when they could no longer, as in the past, access water from rivers. For some of these communities, cleaner and more water is now available.

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