Forests and water

The link between forests and water is complex and differs considerably, depending on factors such as precipitation, slope, soil conditions, vegetation and the scale and intensity of land use. Forests have a strong impact on watersheds. Trees, plants, and forest litter absorb rainwater, reducing erosion and runoff. Leaves capture up to 60 percent of precipitation. When rain falls on bare ground, the force of raindrops can wash soil into streams. But when rain falls on the forest, it drips down through leaves and branches to the forest floor. A well managed forest may thus improve water quality, distribution, and may contribute to improve watershed management.

Water availability is a crucial element for the achievement of the Millennium development goals and targets. Water availability will be particularly important in reducing extreme poverty and hunger, and in reducing the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe water and sanitation.

However, the well being of the people will depend on the state of water sources. Watersheds, for instance, supply about two-thirds of the world¿s freshwater but they are increasingly subject to unsustainable exploitation. Effective watershed management and sustainable forest management, instead, would be able to ensure water availability over the long run.

Water availability is closely linked to hunger, food production and food availability. In fact, current world food production will have to more than double in order to feed a world population predicted to be 8 500 million by 2025. In the meanwhile, global consumption of water doubles every 20 years -twice the rate of population growth.

In rural and urban areas, livelihoods of millions of people are threatened due to inadequate access to water and sanitation. About one-third of the people in cities of the developing world live in desperately overcrowded slums and squatter settlements. In more than 40 countries, 1.1 billion people have insufficient drinking water and 2.4 billion have inadequate sanitation.

If current predictions are accurate, by 2050, at least one in four people will live in countries experiencing chronic or recurring shortages of freshwater. In Africa, for instance, it is expected that 25 countries will experience water scarcity or water stress over the next 20 to 30 years.

This is why forests and watersheds, but mainly sustainable forest and watershed management will be crucial elements in the achievement of environmental sustainability and thereby, poverty and hunger reduction, safe drinking water and sanitation water supply for millions of people.

last updated:  Tuesday, February 22, 2005