Odd one out
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River Management // Odd one out

If rivers run dry or we pollute them, it's not just wildlife that suffers; water companies, farmers and power utilities are affected too. The trade-offs referred to in abstract food-water-energy nexus debates often take tangible form when decisions are made about how to use rivers. Yet we hear little in nexus debates about these vital freshwater ecosystems. - By Dave Tickner

The maintenance of river flows is critical to determining the future success or failure of meeting the water security challenge. The trade-offs referred to in abstract food-water-energy nexus debates often take tangible form when decisions are made about how to use rivers like the Itchen, Godavari, Great Ruaha or Yangtze. Yet we hear little in nexus debates about these vital freshwater ecosystems.

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<<fotos/2013-14/people/dave-tickner_120_b.jpg|c|Dave Tickner, WWF>>

Dave Tickner

is Chief Freshwater Adviser at WWF and a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of East Anglia. He provides strategic leadership to WWF's river conservation projects across the globe and advises governments and companies on water policy and practice. Previously, he worked in the UK government's environment ministry; led WWF's programme for the Danube River; was a non-executive director of Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor; and acted as a special adviser on sustainability to Standard Chartered bank. Dr Tickner has authored, edited or contributed to more than thirty peer-reviewed papers, technical reports, popular articles and books on water and environment issues. He will be speaking at {calendar/view__2099/is-there-a-world-water-crisis-looming-world-water-summit-london_uk|The Economist Events' World Water Summit} on November 6th 2014.

<<logos/publications/e/logo_theeconomist_100x126_hb.jpg|c|logo The Economist>>

This article has {http://www.economistinsights.com/sustainability-resources/opinion/odd-one-out|originally been posted in The Economist} and has been reposted here with kind permission of the author and The Economist.

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Who is the odd one out? Matthew Wright, Chief Executive Officer of a UK water utility; Prashant Sharma, director of an Indian sugar mill; Justus Mtolera, manager of a Tanzanian hydropower plant; or Qi Qi, a Yangtze river (China) dolphin?

Yes, three are human beings and one is a cetacean; but there's more to this puzzle than biology.

Matthew Wright is CEO of Southern Water, an English water utility. In parts of the region it serves, Southern Water abstracts 63% of its raw water from chalk streams like the River Itchen, the birthplace of fly-fishing.

Prashant Sharma is the boss of a sugar mill in Maharashtra, India. He procures sugarcane from thousands of farmers who rely on the Godavari, India's second longest river, for irrigation water. As Mr Sharma put it, "When the farmer isn't able to give sufficient water to the crop, the factory isn't able to reach its production targets."

Justus Mtolera manages the Kidatu dam on the Great Ruaha River in Tanzania. Hydropower generates 57% of Tanzania's total power generation, and Mr Mtolera's dam provides 204 MW of the country's 561 MW installed hydropower capacity.

Qi Qi was kept in a Wuhan dolphinarium until his death in 2002. No Yangtze river dolphins, or baiji, have been observed in the wild since and none now exist in captivity. So it's likely that Qi Qi was the last of his kind, and the baiji is the first whale or dolphin species to become extinct because of human activity.

Our odd one out? It's Qi Qi after all. For him and his fellow baiji the river was home. The three humans rely on rivers not as a place to live but to underpin their businesses.

The trade-offs referred to in abstract food-water-energy nexus debates often take tangible form when decisions are made about how to use rivers like the Itchen, Godavari, Great Ruaha or Yangtze. Yet we hear little in nexus debates about these vital freshwater ecosystems.

Rivers don't just provide our water. Some, like the Mississippi, are vital trade routes for agricultural and other commodities; others are important fisheries (inland fisheries such as rivers now provide a third of total fish catch globally). Freshwater habitats also host a vast, but declining, array of wildlife.

If rivers run dry or we pollute them, it's not just wildlife that suffers; water companies, farmers and power utilities are affected too. This is why governments from South Africa to Sweden have prioritised the maintenance of river flows in laws, policy or guidelines.

The maintenance of river flows is critical to determining the future success or failure of meeting the water security challenge. It's challenging to implement, and it's too late for Qi Qi. But for Mssrs Wright, Sharma and Mtolera— and for those of us who rely on them for water, food and energy security — there is still time.

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