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Taking Stock of Freshwater Systems
Conditions and Changing Capacity

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Condition: Good
Capacity: Mixed

At the global level, inland fisheries landings have been increasing since 1984. Most of this increase has occurred in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In North America, Europe, and the former Soviet Union, landings have declined, while in Oceania they have remained stable. The increase in landings has been maintained in many regions by stocking and by introducing nonnative fish. The greatest threat for the long-term sustainability of inland fisheries is the loss of fish habitat and the degradation of the aquatic environment.

Condition: Poor
Capacity: Decreasing

Even though surface water quality has improved in the United States and Western Europe in the past 20 years (at least with respect to phosphorus concentrations), worldwide conditions appear to have degraded in almost all regions with intensive agriculture and large urban or industrial areas. Algal blooms and eutrophication are being documented more frequently in most inland water systems, and water-borne diseases from fecal contamination of surface waters continue to be a major cause of mortality and morbidity in the developing world.

Condition: Fair
Capacity: Decreasing

The construction of dams has helped provide drinking water for much of the world's population, increased agricultural output through irrigation, eased transport, and provided flood control and hydropower. Between 1900 and 1995, withdrawals increased sixfold, more than twice the rate of population growth. Many regions of the world have ample water supplies, but currently almost 40 percent of the world's population experience serious water shortages. With growing populations, water scarcity is projected to grow dramatically in the next decades. On almost every continent, river modification has affected the natural flow of rivers to a point where many no longer reach the ocean during the dry season. This is the case for the Colorado, Huang-He (Yellow), Ganges, Nile, Syr Darya, and Amu Darya rivers.

Condition: Bad
Capacity: Decreasing

The biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems is much more threatened than that of terrestrial ecosystems. About 20 percent of the world's freshwater fish species have become extinct, threatened, or endangered in recent decades. Physical alteration, habitat loss and degradation, water withdrawal, overexploitation, pollution, and the introduction of nonnative species all contribute to declines in freshwater species. Amphibians, fish, and wetland-dependent birds are at high risk in many regions of the world.


Source note: Data are from the companion book, World Resources 2000-2001: Ecosystems and People: The Fraying Web of Life and from Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems: Agroecosystems (World Resources Institute, 2000).

For comprehensive data about the world's ecosystems and their current conditions and trends, visit EarthTrends at
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The Value of Ecosystems

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