Several African and Latin American countries have 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.
It aims to restore degraded rivers as long as seven times the Earth's circumference and an area of wetlands larger than India by 2030, according to a statement from the UN Water Conference that ends Friday in New York City.
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."
"While countries have pledged to restore one billion hectares of land, the Freshwater Challenge is a critical first step in bringing a much-needed focus on freshwater ecosystems," Anderson added.
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.