Human activities around rivers upstream – like dam construction, farming in wetlands, small-scale irrigation, deforestation, pollution, and livestock grazing – can disrupt the ecosystem’s delicate balance. These disruptions lead to changes in the quality, quantity, and timing of the water flow downstream, all the way to the coast. Such changes can have serious and widespread impacts on riverside communities. Water could become unsafe to drink, leading to increased illness. Fish may no longer be as easily found, threatening communities’ food and job security. Critical habitats – and the biodiverse aquatic and coastal wildlife that depend on them – are at risk of disappearing without the water necessary to sustain them. Inter-communal tensions may rise as residents compete for access to a dwindling resource.
Environmental flows assessments – or Eflows – seek to determine the quantity and quality of water and sediment flows necessary to sustain freshwater and estuarine ecosystems and the human livelihoods and wellbeing that depend on them. Though governments and other stakeholders recognize the key role of sustained environmental flows to communities and the environment, there has been no standardized, region-wide approach to conducting environmental flows assessments. The new Guidelines, produced with WIOMSA and Sokoine University of Agriculture, aim to address this gap by outlining, step-by-step, how to conduct such assessments to enable learning and harmonized approaches to Eflows across the region.