The importance of rivers

Scientists have found that freshwater rivers are good for people, animals, and countries. As part of the New Scientist ‘Save Britain’s Rivers’ campaign, scientists have provided interesting information about the usefulness of rivers.

The regions that have the most river systems are (in order): Asia (31% of the world’s rivers), South America (28%), North America (18%), Oceania (15%), Sub-Saharan Africa (9%), Europe (7%), Australia (1%), and Middle East and North Africa (0.3%). It seems as though there is a lot of river water in the world, but only about 1% of all the land on the planet has fresh river water.

Humans use lots of river water. For example, about 87% of tap water in Britain comes from the country’s rivers, reservoirs, and lakes, which is used for drinking, washing, cooking, and watering gardens. Humans also use water for agriculture, electricity, and manufacturing. Humans also use water as a tourist attraction – in national parks, fishing, swimming, canoeing, boating, recreational activities, and visiting waterfalls and floodplains. 

Weather affects the amount of freshwater in rivers. If it rains a lot, rivers can flood, but if it does not rain, rivers can dry up. 

Like humans, animals live around rivers. About 40% of all fish species live in freshwater (the remaining 60% live in brackish and salt water in and near the oceans). About 33% of all vertebrates (animals with a backbone, including fish) live near rivers – from eels and otters to beavers and hippos. 

Animals in rivers live in a range of different habitats, such as lowland rivers, alpine rivers, pools, lakes, backwaters, still water, flowing water, riverbanks, floodplains, waterfalls, rapids, and even hot springs.

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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