8 Threatened Rivers Around the World

The Nile River in Africa
The Nile River has supported Egyptian life for centuries, but humans' over-reliance on this massive body of water has put it in danger.

Amkwi2014 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Water covers most of the Earth’s surface, but much of it is salty or permanently frozen. In fact, around 68.7% of the world’s freshwater is locked in glaciers and ice. With water demand and human encroachment on the rise, water stress is a growing concern, and many of the planet's rivers are at risk of being destroyed or depleted. As of 2021, UNICEF estimates that 1.42 billion people live in regions with water vulnerability and that water scarcity affects nearly half of the world. Fortunately, there are many organizations around the planet dedicated to conserving our rivers for future generations.

Here are eight threatened rivers from around the world and how conservation organizations are fighting to protect them.

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The Amazon

The Amazon River in South America

Jlwad / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Amazon River, the basin of which covers 44% of South America or more than 2.3 million square miles, is incredibly biodiverse with over 30,000 species of plants and 1,800 species of birds. It is home to 56% of the world’s broadleaf forests and plays an important role in regulating the climate in North and South America. Experts estimate its length to exceed 4,000 miles.

The Amazon River and its forests are threatened by human activity, primarily pollution and rapid resource depletion. The Office of the American States Department of Sustainable Development is working to manage threats including over-development and deforestation and to strengthen vulnerable ecosystems.

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The Mississippi

The Mississippi River in North America

Ken Lund / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Mississippi, called “America’s Greatest River,” rises in western Minnesota and flows south for 2,530 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. Millions of people in over 50 cities use water from the Mississippi, and the river is also used for shipping, agriculture, and waste disposal.

Hundreds of animal species, including 60% of North America's birds, call the area around the Mississippi River home, but river contamination and aquatic and shoreline habitat destruction threaten to displace them. Fortunately, many projects and organizations are dedicated to its conservation, including the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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The Danube

The Danube River in Europe

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The Danube River begins in western Germany, flowing over 1,775 miles into the Black Sea. It is the second-longest river in Europe and it spans 19 countries; among these are Austria, Hungary, and Romania. The Danube features a richly diverse ecosystem, hosting 55 different species of fish including 26 species of sturgeon. Cities across Europe use the Danube for power generation and agriculture, and there are more than 700 dams in total.

Unfortunately, this river is overfished, heavily polluted, and prone to flooding. The International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River was established in 1998 to manage its conservation.

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The Mekong

Mekong River in Asia

Mlenny / Getty Images

The Mekong River is an integral part of Southeast Asia's landscape, culture, and economy. Also called the Lancang River, it starts in China, stretching over 2,850 miles through Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It is the second most diverse river in the world and the basin alone provides more than 65 million people with food, drinking water, power, and transportation.

Dams and power plants are harming Mekong's ecosystems, particularly its fish populations. Dams slated for construction by 2030 could potentially wipe out dozens of fish species. Organizations such as Conservation International are working to preserve the ecological integrity of the river by advocating for its sustainable development.

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The Yangtze

Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

The Yangtze River runs about 3,915 miles through China, making it the longest river in the country and the third-longest river in the world. It contains rare and diverse wildlife including the Yangtze River Dolphin, the Chinese Alligator, and the Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle.

This river houses the largest hydroelectric dam in the world and a tremendous source of power, the Three Gorges Dam. This dam and other developments have placed immense stress on the Yangtze River and its ecosystems. In 2021, China passed the Yangtze River Conservation Law to guard the river's resources, monitor and protect its wildlife, and place more stringent policies on development, fishing, and pollution.

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The Nile

Nile River in Africa

Rod Waddington / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The River Nile of Africa is the longest river in the world, measuring approximately 4,132 miles. It flows through northeastern Africa, ending in Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. Several large hydro-powered dams are planned for the river in Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan. The Nile's nutrient-dense banks have supported agriculture for centuries, starting with ancient Egyptians, and water from the river is used to irrigate crops

Dams on the river and its tributaries, which impede its flow, are just one cause for concern for the Nile. This river is also highly vulnerable to rapid drainage by humans and weather phenomena such as flooding. The Nile Basin Initiative is working to achieve sustainable management of the river’s resources.

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The Congo

Congo River in Africa

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The basin of the Congo River stretches across central Africa and has an area of over 2.3 million square miles. This powerful river discharges water at a rate of 151,575 f3/s on average, making it second only to the Amazon in size by discharge. It is also an important site for carbon regulation and biodiversity as it supports the second-largest rainforest in the world.

As Africa’s main navigational system, this river is under attack. While parts of the Congo River are polluted from urban waste and soil erosion, human travel is responsible for most of its contamination and degradation. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization has initiatives in place to protect and preserve this World Heritage site.

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Provo River

Provo River in North America

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The Provo River originates in the Uinta Mountains of Utah, flowing about 75 miles south to Utah Lake in the city of Provo. In the 1950s and 60s, much of the middle Provo River was dammed, straightened, and diked, causing extensive losses to wetlands, riparian forests, and wildlife habitats. The collapse of Trial Lake Dam in 1986 also led to flooding that permanently damaged shorelines.

In 1999, Utah began the Provo River Restoration Project (PRRP) to restore parts of the river and combat continued damage to the river and its ecosystems.

View Article Sources
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