According to U.S. scientists, July 2012 was the hottest month in recorded history. Crops have dried up, and most people’s utility bills have shot up. North America’s epic drought has placed a chokehold on the country’s lakes and rivers. The Hudson River, a cherished waterway stretching through New York, has seen its levels drop two feet this year alone. Sadly, the news is even worse in other parts of the world, where environmental changes, human abuse and urban development have left once-thriving rivers mere puddles of their former selves. Here are 10 Threatened Rivers For Your World Travel Bucket List, none of which we’ll recognize for much longer if we don’t find answers to all the years of neglect.
Ganges River (India and Bangladesh)
The Ganges, not only India’s longest river but also one of its most sacred, has come under attacks from a number of different angles. Chemical pollution, sewage dispersal and rising levels of salt are an everyday threat to the 40 million people who live along the river basin and the numerous wildlife species (including the endangered Ganges river dolphin) that also call it home.
Rio Grande River (Southwestern United States)
The drought of 2012 has hit America hard, but in the Southwest corner of the country this isn’t anything new. Portions of the Rio Grande have been under drought-like conditions for over two years. Couple that growing dryness with damming and high levels of evaporation and you have yourself a major issue. And if all of that weren’t enough, there’s the issue of the invasive salt cedar, a thirsty evergreen shrub that has literally taken over areas along the fabled river.
Jordan River (Jordan and Israel)
Referenced numerous times in the Bible and still used heavily today, this 156-mile river has been immensely important to the Middle East region for a very long time. It has also been shrinking for nearly as long. Flowing through the Jordan Rift Valley from tributaries at the base of Mount Hermon to Lake Kinneret (a.k.a. the Sea of Galilee) and into the Dead Sea, the river forms the boundary between the country of Jordan and the West Bank. In 1960, the River Jordan’s average flow was about 1,300 million cubic meters per year. But, because of consumption and evaporation, it’s down to roughly 100 million cubic meters today.
Xingu River (Brazil)
Brazil‘s controversial Belo Monte Dam is big in both cost ($13-18 billion by its 2015 completion) and size (11,233 megawatts, making it the third largest dam in the world). And if what 100+ different protesting groups have been saying for the past few years is accurate, it’s going to have a major negative impact on the entire Amazon River Basin as well. Outspoken opposition insists that project lobbyists have not fully considered changing fish migratory routes, the loss of vegetation, or the effects the Belo Monte Dam would have on displaced indigenous cultures such as the Kayapó and Kalapalo.
The Danube (Central Europe)
Many call the Danube the “Amazon of Europe.” That’s for good reason. The vitally important waterway flows through Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade. The winding river also serves as an inexpensive means of commercial shipping. To help with industry, sections of the Danube are being straightened. And while these changes may help boats save shipping time, the alterations are speeding up the clock on the local ecosystem’s demise.
Indus River (Pakistan, India and China)
It’s been well-documented how pollution of this 450,000-mile river is negatively affecting the local wildlife, particularly the dwindling number of endangered Indus River dolphins. What hasn’t been quite so greatly publicized is the fact that, even though the source of the Indus, the Tibetan Plateau, is melting at an alarming rate, many traditional Pakistani farmers are facing historically low levels of irrigated water. Local government suggests that the best way to adjust to the ongoing climate changes is by adopting water-smart farming techniques.
Potomac River (Mid-Atlantic United States)
Considering what an intricate role the Potomac River has played in American history (the Potomac geographically divided the Union from the Confederacy during the Civil War, and has long sustained life throughout the mining areas of West Virginia), it sure is getting an unfair shake these days. Urban advancements are funneling so much polluted rainwater through the river, which flows just a mile from the White House, that nonprofit advocacy group American Rivers has named the Potomac the nation’s most endangered river of 2012.
Nile River (Northeast Africa)
The Nile has served as a crucial lifeline for the people of east Africa ever since ancient times. Today, the Nile River system provides water to 40% of the massive continent’s people, and that number is steadily growing. The United Nations predicts the population of Sudan and Ethiopia, two nations relying on the Great River for survival, will rise from 208 million to 272 million by 2025. If that proves to be the case, the already-straining Nile may eventually become nearly barren as it passes up through Egypt and trickles into the Mediterranean Sea.
Murray-Darling River Basin (Australia)
Like other rivers on this list, the Murray-Darling is taking major hits from climate change, waste and excessive extraction. However, the 2,097-mile system’s biggest threat swims below the water. The European carp (known derisively as “rabbits of the river,” and listed among the world’s 100 worst invasive species by the IUCN) and Redfin are wrecking all sorts of havoc on Australia’s freshwater ecosystem. The local government is so vehemently opposed to the bottom feeder that it’s actually illegal for fishermen to return carp to the river if they’re ever hooked.
Yangtze River (China)
In terms of sheer length, this once-majestic river ranks behind only the Nile and Amazon. But if we were strictly gauging a waterway’s importance to people, it may have no rival. Some 400 million Chinese depend on the Yangtze for their fresh water. Unfortunately, non-sustainable development (12 dams are built, or currently slated for construction, along the river) has ravaged the Yangtze, leading to waste, altered water flow and the elimination of important aquatic life such as the Chinese alligator, finless porpoise, and Southern China catfish (a vital food staple).
For more information on how you can help save the world’s 10 most threatened rivers, visit InternationalRivers.org. –DeMarco Williams