Alpine rivers under stress

Only one in ten Alpine rivers are able to maintain sufficient water supply for the 14 million people that depend on these sources of fresh water, according to a report by WWF.

In its study Save the Alpine Rivers, WWF found that 89 per cent of the 57,000 kilometres of river studied are already substantially harmed as a result of heavy human pressure. These rivers were found to be redirected, altered or otherwise impacted by hydroelectric dams.

WWF also found that many Alpine riverbanks are being converted to agricultural land and urban areas, which reduces their natural ability to regulate floods. Flooding in Europe – already costly and catastrophic – is predicted to occur more frequently as climate change raises temperatures in the Alps at a rate much higher than in other regions of the world: 2 degrees Celsius in the last 200 years compared to an average global temperature increase of “only” .85 C.

“The environment is changing and we must respond,” warns Christoph Litschauer, Head of WWF’s European Alpine Freshwater Program. WWF wants to see European governments to prepare an action plan to strengthen the resilience of water ecosystems to climate change, and the study defines no-go areas for hydro power plants.

The Alps act as water towers for 14 million people from eight countries and are essential for human livelihood, provide water for households, agricultural, food, fisheries, energy and recreation.


Photo credit: Gabi Weinert, flickr/Creative Commons

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