Ecosystems lie at the heart of the global water cycle.Ecosystems – including, for example, forests, wetlands and grassland – lie at the heart of the global water cycle. All freshwater ultimately depends on the continued healthy functioning of ecosystems, and recognizing the water cycle is essential to achieving sustainable water management. Yet most economic models do not value the essential services provided by freshwater ecosystems. This leads to unsustainable use of water resources and ecosystem degradation. For example, the Okavango river in Africa is one of the last unspoilt ecosystems on earth. Pollution from untreated residential and industrial wastewater and agricultural run-off also weakens the capacity of ecosystem to provide water-related services.
There is a need to shift towards environmentally sustainable economic policies that take account of the interconnection between ecological systems. One challenge is to maintain a beneficial mix between built and natural infrastructure and provision of their respective services.
Economic arguments can make the preservation of ecosystems relevant to decision-makers and planners. Ecosystem valuation demonstrates that benefits far exceed costs of water-related investments in ecosystem conservation. Valuation is also important in assessing trade-offs in ecosystem conservation, and can be used to better inform development plans. Adoption of ‘ecosystem-based management’ is key to ensuring water long-term sustainability.
World Water Day 2015: Water is Nature