Saturday, March 24, 2007

Rivers in Asia in Dire Straits

Sources: Asia's River Systems Face Collapse, Asian Rivers Top WWF Risk List From Pollution, Asian Rivers in Most Risk of Pollution and Climate Change Effects

The rush in many Asian countries to go from Third World to industrialized status has threatened the survival of many of its rivers. A study released by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) revealed that 21 of the world's major river systems are facing a near total collapse due to pollution and man-made diversion of water through irrigation and dams. One fresh-water officer at the WWF claimed that the circumstances are extreme. Some of the dying rivers include the Yangtze, Mekong, Indus, and Ganges.
These river systems and their basins support the lives of hundreds of millions of people in Asia. Many fear that the destruction of this important resource could lead to dire economic consequences in the emerging markets of Asia, such as the loss of food supplies, jobs, and social stability. These rivers support rice basins, fishing industries, and farming in this region.
The pollution has also resulted in thousands of freshwater fish and plant species to enter the endangered or extinct list. This is significant because many of the livelihoods connected with the rivers are dependent on these species. For instance, annual fish catches in the Yangtze river declined in volume by over one-half since the 1950s.
The WWF cites overdevelopment as the primary cause of the destruction of the river systems in Asia. It states that 60% of the world's largest rivers have been highly fragmented by dams. The WWF has been warning the governments of these countries about the potential negative consequences that fast development could have on the rivers, but government officials have been reluctant to respond in ways that would compromise the growth of industry.

1) What types of international problems may result as water resources become depleted?
2) What can be done to change the attitudes of governments to get them to act before the river systems can no longer be used as resources?
3) How can Asian governments approach the problem without sacrificing the growing strength of their markets?

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