Eastern Africa is blessed with unique lakes, rivers and wetlands – some of those are biodiversity hot-spots of global importance and many organisms are still waiting to be discovered. Rather limited is the availability of reliable information on the status, distribution and ecological requirements of freshwater organisms for planning and decision-making processes in conservation and water resource management. Based on the current data available, 21% of freshwater species in Africa are recorded as threatened (Darwall et al., 2011), 45% of freshwater fish and 58% of freshwater plants are over-harvested (IUCN, 2014). The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted under the Convention on Biological Diversity are setting the global framework for priority actions on biodiversity. The 2030 Agenda and the Strategic Plan are mutually supportive and reinforcing each other, therefore biodiversity and ecosystems feature prominently across many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and associated targets. The Agenda 2063 of the African Union and national policies of Eastern African countries include as priority areas: biodiversity conservation, genetic resources and ecosystems; sustainable natural resource management; sustainable consumption and production patterns; water security and climate resilience.
Water Resource Management
The most accepted approaches to water resource management such as IWRM (Integrated Water Resource Management) and EA (Ecosystem Approach) tackle the core challenge of nowadays – how to realign the availability of water with human– and economic-based demands at levels that maintain both ecosystem- and human health sustainably. The alarming degradation of freshwater ecosystems in Eastern Africa is calling for immediate action at all levels including significant financial means for research, implementation of evidence-based policies and massive interventions to accomplish the sustainable management of water resources.
Fisheries & Aquacultures
The inland fisheries and aquaculture sector provides valuable contributions to achieve the SDG 1 and 2 (Lynch et al., 2017) and is an economically important factor in Eastern Africa, generating income and employment for the fast growing population. The inland fisheries of the African Lakes region contribute more than half of the global commercial inland fisheries catch and aquaculture production in sub-Saharan Africa increased seven-fold in production between 2004 and 2014 (FAO, 2018). Eastern African inland fisheries and aquaculture is largely small-scale for local consumption, delivering both accessible and affordable quality food to vulnerable populations, hence making an important contribution to food security. However, Eastern African inland fisheries and aquaculture are facing major challenges already, such as overfishing, water quality, habitat degradation, invasive species, comprehensive fish catch and production capacity data, climate change and the implementation of coherent policies. At the same time, the sector impairs the integrity of freshwater ecosystems and its services rendered for other societal needs. Increasingly the ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) is integrated into policies, striving to achieve sustainability by balancing diverse societal needs and preserving possibilities for future generations.
Society & Ecosystem Services
Ecosystem resources and services are well documented to contribute directly to human well-being and providing the basis for many economic activities, such as crop and livestock agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. Globally, nearly half of the human population is directly dependent on natural resources for its livelihood, and many of the most vulnerable people depend directly to fulfil their daily subsistence needs.
The human population in Eastern Africa is anticipated to double in the next 35 years (UN Population Division, 2107) and the current annual GDP growth rate is around 6 % (African Development Bank, 2018). Environmental resource demands of humans have already heavily impacted most of the Eastern African lakes, rivers and wetlands – hence, both the quality, as well as the quantity of freshwater ecosystem resources and services have become issues of major concerns for future livelihoods and development. Therefore, understanding the dynamic relationships between environmental and social phenomena becomes crucial for initiating transformation processes and achieving sustainable management solutions in the Anthropocene.
Freshwater ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they are relatively isolated, physically fragmented within a largely terrestrial landscape and are heavily exploited by humans for the provision of resources and services. Furthermore, freshwater biodiversity is disproportionately at risk on a global scale since freshwaters cover only 0.8% of the Earth's surface, but are estimated to host 6% of all species (Dudgeon et al., 2006). By 2050, 80% of Africa's freshwater fish species are likely to experience hydrologic conditions substantially different from those in which they currently live (Thieme et al., 2010). Declines in primary productivity, fish of commercial importance and endemic molluscs have accompanied the warming of Lake Tanganyika (O’Reilly et al., 2013; Cohen et al., 2016).
Education & Outreach
Education is recognized globally as an essential enabler of sustainability (Buckler & Creech 2014), having the power to initiate fundamental shifts in how we think and act, to reshape people’s value systems and far-reaching impacts on future generations. Concepts such as “Education for Sustainable Development”, “Lifelong Learning”, “Citizen Science” and scientific outreach activities are crucial instruments to build knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to improve the quality of life of people, without damaging the environment - hence, fundamental measures towards the sustainable management of freshwater ecosystems in Eastern Africa.