Welcome to another Open Access Ambassador Spotlight Blog!

Our OA Ambassadors raise awareness in their local communities about global OA movements as well as related opportunities through IWA Publishing. They are representatives of both the International Water Association and IWA Publishing and our joint goals to empower the next generation of water leaders and to shape the future of the water sector. These blog posts highlight their specialty and research focus, as well as emphasising the importance of Open Access publishing. 

Kator Jethro Ifyalem is a civil engineer and MSc student from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, committed to environmental sustainability. Connect with Kator on LinkedIn!

Water sustains ecosystems that provide invaluable services that support human well-being. However, in recent decades, ecosystems across the world have faced unprecedented threats from growing water scarcity, pollution, invasive species, and climate change. Protecting water resources is imperative for maintaining the resilience and security of ecosystems. This article discusses the importance of water security for the protection of ecosystem health and the crucial role that water experts must play in creating integrated, sustainable solutions for long-term water availability.

The Value of Healthy Ecosystems

Freshwater ecosystems, such as lakes, rivers, wetlands, forests, and grasslands, provide many irreplaceable services. They supply and purify water for drinking, irrigation, and industrial uses; mitigate floods and droughts; generate hydroelectricity; facilitate inland water transportation; promote tourism; and harbour exceptionally high biodiversity.

Water resources also replenish groundwater, estuaries, coastal zones, and offshore marine ecosystems through hydrological connectivity. Even small levels of water flow help to maintain the structure and functionality of the landscape. Ecosystem services provided by water bodies and related habitats sustain the well-being of more than 6 billion people. No modern civilisation can survive without the multiple benefits provided by water-based ecosystems in their domain.

Emerging Threats to Freshwater Systems

Despite their immense value, worldwide, wetlands have lost nearly 90% of their area since the start of the 20th century. According to the UN, approximately 3.7% of crucial forest cover is lost in Nigeria every year. The situation is likely to worsen as expanding populations, economic growth, and climate change aggravate water stress.

Climate change poses additional risks like erosion, salinization of coastal lands, acidification of oceans, intensification of floods, droughts, and wildfires. Already, global warming of 1°C is transforming freshwater species distributions, reproduction timing, community structures and ecosystem functions. These impacts strain the resistance and recovery of aquatic biodiversity and ecosystems. They undermine water security for humans and nature.

Integrated Solutions for Water and Ecosystem Security 

Promoting ecosystem resilience is imperative to protect precious water resources. Water experts have a profound responsibility for developing farsighted, inclusive solutions that reinforce the interconnectedness of nature. Some top priorities include:

Restoring Freshwater Ecosystems: Conservation programmes to restore degraded wetlands, watersheds, mangroves, and inland and coastal fisheries can tremendously improve their ecological viability and hydrological benefits. Community-based rehabilitation of ponds, lakesides and local waterbodies has shown great dividends in regional biodiversity and availability of surface and groundwater.

Harnessing Green Water Management: Boosting 'green water' storage (moisture preserved in the soil) through the expansion of climate-resilient native vegetation, forests, floodplains, and grasslands alleviates water scarcity while increasing carbon sequestration, reducing erosion, and soil loss. Field techniques like contour bunding, terracing, rainwater harvesting, managed aquifer recharge and keyline designs that optimize green water flows help multiply benefits.

Improving Land-Water Connections: Land activities have a large impact on a large percentage of global freshwater assets. Wise watershed planning via integrated water and land management is imperative. Steps such as minimising fertiliser/pesticides in farms, adopting precision agriculture, and boosting urban green spaces curtail waterway pollution while improving water availability.

Upgrading Water Infrastructures: Updated transportation, drainage and water supply infrastructure and universal access to drinking water and sanitation can greatly improve freshwater quality while reducing waste. Switching to low water intensive renewable energy, enhancing water use efficiency and recycling wastewater wherever feasible optimizes water utilization.

Reforming Governance: Water and environmental laws, policies, and institutions need urgent reconfiguration through multi-stakeholder cooperation to support ecosystems. Key reforms include consistent monitoring, open access to data, participatory decision making, consistent enforcement, and adaptive mechanisms to address emerging risks.

The diverse array of habitats and organisms on the planet is fundamentally based on the integrity of water systems. Disrupting delicate water flows creates profound, expansive harm. Water professionals are uniquely placed to appreciate this reality and realign development pathways for enduring water security through a shared social contract with nature. Our united actions over the coming years can steer the world toward a more robust, life-affirming track where stable water systems protect rich, varied, and thriving forms of life across spaces.

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