photo by . SantiMB . (Flickr CC)

Human beings have severely impacted 80% of the world’s rivers to the point that 5 million people, along with thousands of aquatic species, are in danger.

A new global study, published in the scientific journal Nature, identifies various types of human impact on the Earth’s waterways, such as pollution, irrigation and dams, and quantifies how they affect River Biodiversity and Human Water Security.

From Rivers In Crisis:

The Earth’s limited supplies of fresh water and irreplaceable biodiversity are vulnerable to human mismanagement of watersheds and waterways. Multiple environmental stressors, such as agricultural runoff, pollution and invasive species, threaten rivers that serve 80 percent of the world’s population. These same stressors endanger the biodiversity of 65 percent of the world’s river habitats putting thousands of aquatic wildlife species at risk.

As usual, those living in poor, developing nations are at the most risk in terms of water security – especially in Africa and central Asia. Yet biodiversity in rich nations is also extremely vulnerable.

What made our jaws drop is that some of the highest threat levels in the world are in the United States and Europe. Americans tend to think water pollution problems are pretty well under control, but we still face enormous challenges.

–Peter McIntyre, University of Michigan.

Much of the threat to Europe and the US’s wildlife comes from the extensive engineering of water ways, such as dam building, but river pollution and the introduction of non native species have also left their mark.

Read more on the story in the following Guardian article:

Human impact on world’s rivers ‘threatens water security of 5 billion’