World Water Day 2018: The answer is in nature

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World Water Day 2018: The answer is in nature

World Water Day, on 22 March every year, is about focusing attention on the importance of water. This year's theme is ‘Nature for Water’ – exploring nature-based solutions (NBS) to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.

The annual celebration is coordinated by UN-Water – the United Nation's inter-agency collaboration mechanism for all freshwater related issues - in collaboration with governments and partners. 

This year's campaign is called ‘The answer is in nature’ and raises awareness of NBS.

"The central message is that NBS, such as planting trees to replenish forests, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, and restoring wetlands, is a sustainable and cost-effective way to help rebalance the water cycle, mitigate the effects of climate change and improve human health and livelihoods," the organization said.

"By using NBS to help meet the water needs of a growing population, we will contribute to the creation of a circular economy, at the same time as helping to protect the natural environment and reduce pollution - both key targets in Sustainable Development Goal 6, which commits the world to ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030."

The UN said that restoring forests, grasslands and natural wetlands, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, creating buffers of vegetation along water courses are all examples of NBS that help the management of water availability and quality.

Most NBS, including in urban landscapes, essentially involve the management of vegetation, soils and/or wetlands, including rivers and lakes.

It emphasized that NBS are "not a panacea" to the critical water-related challenges we face as the global population grows, but they can provide "innovative and cost-effective options" for supplementing insufficient or ageing water infrastructure. 

Water storage via natural wetlands, soil moisture and/or groundwater recharging can be more sustainable and cost-effective than grey infrastructure, such as dams, it said.

It also explained that pollution from agricultural can be significantly reduced by NBS such as conservation agriculture, which protects soil from erosion, or riparian buffers, strips of land along water courses planted with native trees and shrubs.

In addition, it said the effects of climate change, such as frequent extreme flooding, can be mitigated by a range of NBS, such as riparian buffers or connecting rivers to floodplains.

"The application of certain NBS creates what is known as ‘green infrastructure’: natural or semi-natural systems that give us equivalent or similar benefits to conventional, human-built ‘grey infrastructure’," it said.

"NBS often produce benefits beyond water-related services. For example, constructed wetlands used for wastewater treatment can provide biomass for energy production, improve biodiversity and create recreational spaces and associated employment."

Conservation agriculture

According to the UN, conservation agriculture is based on three principles - minimizing soil disturbance; maintaining a continuous soil cover of organic mulch and/or plants, and cultivating diverse plant species.

"Eliminating or minimizing tilling or plowing avoids disturbing and breaking up the topsoil structure, as well as reduces emissions from farm machinery. This has been found to keep the soil more stable, increase drainage, slow down runoff, and drastically reduce pollution of nearby water sources," it said.

"The economic benefits of conservation agriculture have been established in various systems around the world, from smallholder agricultural systems in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa to large-scale commercial production systems in Brazil and Canada.

"Currently, about 1.8 million km2 of croplands are under conservation agriculture, representing about 12.5% of global cropland extent, an increase of nearly 70% since 2008."


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