Forest and water – sustain life and livelihoods
To increase awareness of the vital, symbiotic relationship between forests and water, UN-Water and the UN Forum on Forests are combining forces for a joint celebration of the International Day of Forests and World Water Day on Monday, 21 March at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
“Forests cover 30.6 % of the world’s land area and more than 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forests for food, water, medicines and fuel, as well as their jobs and livelihoods,” Manoel Sobral Filho, Director of the UN Forum on Forests, said, putting the importance of forests in perspective.
“Throughout history, as populations increase, forest land has been converted to agriculture and other uses. The world’s population is predicted to reach 8.4 billion people within the next 15 years – with most of the growth in Africa and Asia – and the demand for forest goods and services will increase proportionally.”
Forests are especially crucial for some of the world’s largest cities such as Durban, Jakarta, Rio de Janeiro, Bogotá, New York, and Madrid, as they draw a significant portion of their drinking water from forested areas.
“75 per cent of freshwater used for household, agricultural and industrial needs worldwide is provided through forested catchments,” Sobral said.
Forests and water also play an important role in national and global economies. Sectors with heavily water-dependent jobs include forestry, along with jobs in agriculture and industry. The 2016 World Water Development Report (WWDR), to be launched on World Water Day, estimates that more than 1.4 billion jobs, or 42% of the world’s total active workforce, are heavily water-dependent. The formal forestry sector (roundwood production, wood processing and pulp and paper) accounts for nearly 1 per cent of total global GDP, and it is estimated that the informal forest sector is far larger.
The significance of forests in the livelihoods of so many, however, has not limited the number of threats that humanity inflicts on them.
“There are many threats to forests and water, from unsustainable use and pollution, to climate change and natural disasters. Every year, 7 million hectares of natural forest are lost, and this is mostly due to illegal deforestation.”
“In the case of forests and water, one way that some countries are addressing this is through payments for watershed services schemes/programs that include forest conservation and regeneration. This provides an incentive to upstream land users to adopt sustainable practices that ensure the supply of environmental services to downstream land users.“
Through forward-looking policy and dedicated action, societies can actively contribute to maintain and restore the health of many of our forests.”
“Planted forests, when well managed, can help meet the need for forest goods, while helping reduce the pressure on natural forests,” Sobral said. “This is particularly relevant when you consider that energy from wood is our single most important source of renewable energy, representing 9 percent of the total primary renewable energy supply worldwide.”
To better preserve their forests and water sources, natural resources have to be managed in a way that we can meet the needs of the current and future generations, according to Sobral.
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