Several African and Latin American countries on Thursday launched a major initiative to restore 300,000 kilometers (186,000 miles) of rivers by 2030, as well as lakes and wetlands degraded by human activity.
The "Freshwater Challenge," led by a coalition of governments that includes Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico and Gabon, is the largest river and wetland restoration project in history.
The initiative calls on all governments to set national river restoration targets to restore healthy freshwater ecosystems critical to humanity's water needs and biodiversity.
No details were given on how the effort will be funded.
As water shortages become more widespread globally -- driven by overconsumption, pollution and climate change -- freshwater ecosystems are among the most threatened on the planet.
"The clearest sign of the damage we have done -- and are still doing -- to our rivers, lakes and wetlands is the staggering 83 percent collapse in freshwater species populations since 1970," Stuart Orr of the World Wildlife Fund said in a statement, adding that the initiative may "turn this around."
Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Program, said: "Healthy rivers, lakes and wetlands underpin our societies and economies, yet they are routinely undervalued and overlooked."
Martha Delgado Peralta, Mexico's undersecretary for multilateral affairs, voiced a similar view.
"Healthy freshwater ecosystems are central to water and food security, while tackling the climate and nature crises, and driving sustainable development," she said.