Healthy Rivers Build Greater Resilience to Climate Change
Climate change is bringing more extreme floods and droughts, and large dams can compound the impacts of both. Dam failures, levees that cut off rivers from their floodplains and hydropower projects that lay idle in times of drought reduce the ability of societies to cope with the impacts of a changing climate.
The new report, Civil Society Guide to Healthy Rivers and Climate Resilience, by International Rivers explains how rivers strengthen climate resilience, how large dams increase our vulnerability to climate change and how climate resilience can be integrated into natural resource management and the planning processes for the water and energy sectors.
Healthy rivers help protect us from the worst vagaries of climate change. Free-flowing rivers build deltas and mangroves that protect coastlines. They sustain fisheries and forests, provide water and support agriculture. Yet the world over, rivers are themselves under threat from climate change and runaway dam building. The combined impacts of global warming and river-altering dams are creating a “perfect storm” for the world's fisheries, forests, wildlife habitats and river-based communities.
“Dammed rivers are damaged rivers; they are less able to protect us from climate change and more likely to worsen problems when big floods and droughts hit," said Parineeta Dandekar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People and a contributing author to the report. "We need honest and holistic cost-benefit analysis of dams to account for these climate change risks.”
“We also need more protected and free-flowing rivers to appreciate the range of services a healthy river can provide,” Dandekar continued.
Developed with the help of a number of partner organizations, the Civil Society Guide to Healthy Rivers and Climate Resilience includes concrete case studies and practical guidance for groups working in the water and energy sectors. It lays out how to help communities facing large dam projects develop adaptation plans that address the risks that dams bring.
“Building greater resilience into our communities begins with clean water, and also by recognizing that Earth’s ‘water cycle’ is broken and in need of repair," said Jason Rainey, executive director of International Rivers. "Restoring river-dependent ecosystems and their services is essential for adapting to the additional pressures caused by a destabilized climate."
"The good news is that rivers are resilient, and they draw us together," Rainey said further. "Communities all over the world have been innovating ground-up solutions to meet water, energy and food security needs. With a concerted effort, we can help restore the health of our rivers so they may continue to provide innumerable local and planetary benefits.”