Key messages

  • Forested watersheds and wetlands supply 75 percent of the world’s accessible fresh water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and ecological needs
  • About one-third of the world’s largest cities obtain a significant proportion of their drinking water directly from forested protected areas. The populations of major cities such as Mumbai, Bogotá and New York rely on forests for their water supplies. This number will increase as urban centres grow in size and population.
  • Nearly 80 percent of the world’s population – 8 out of 10 people - is exposed to high levels of threat to water security. By 2050, an extra 2.3 billion people are projected to be living in river basins under severe water stress, especially in North and South Africa, and South and Central Asia.
  • Forests act as natural water filters. Forests minimize soil erosion on site, reduce sediment in water bodies (wetlands, ponds, lakes, streams, rivers) and trap or filter water pollutants in the forest litter.
  • Climate change is altering forests’ role in regulating water flows and influencing the availability of water resources. Forests are at the forefront of reducing the effects of climate change. In respect of water, one benefit is forests’ cooling effect on the environment produced through evapotranspiration and the provision of shade. The impacts of climate change may also be manifested in an increase in catastrophes such as floods, droughts and landslides – all of which may be influenced by forest cover. Moreover, large-scale deforestation can have an impact on precipitation patterns. 
  • Improved water resource management can show considerable economic gains. By 2030, the world is projected to face a 40 percent global water deficit under the business-as-usual climate scenario. However, every US$1 invested in watershed protection can save anywhere from US$7.5 to almost US$200 in costs of a new water treatment and filtration facility. In developing countries, a US$15 to US$30 billion investment in improved water resources management could have direct annual income returns in the range of US$60 billion.
  • Forests have a crucial role in building and strengthening resilience. When sustainably managed, forests contribute significantly to reducing soil erosion and the risk of landslides and avalanches, natural disasters which can disrupt the source and supply of freshwater. Forests protect and rehabilitate areas prone to soil degradation and erosion in upland areas.



Forests and Water - a five-year action plan 7 March 2016 The Action Plan presents the tangible integration of science, policy and practice of forest-water interactions, and seeks to encourage greater commitment to sustainable forest and water management. Scientists, researchers, policy and decision-makers as well as practitioners are all encouraged to contribute to the ongoing process. This collaboration and related activities are evolving under a common vision: to integrate forest and water management to ensure trees and forests can adapt to global changes and continue to provide a sustainable supply of water and related ecosystem services. [more]
Mapping the vulnerability of mountain peoples to food insecurity 11 December 2015 This study presents an updated geographic and demographic picture of the world’s mountain areas and assesses the vulnerability to food insecurity of mountain dwellers in developing countries, based on a specially designed model. The final section presents an alternative and complementary approach to assessing hunger by analyzing household surveys. [more]
Forests and Water - International Momentum and Action 21 March 2013 Forests play a crucial role in the hydrological cycle. Forests influence the amount of water available and regulate surface and groundwater flows while maintaining high water quality. Forests and trees contribute to the reduction of water-related risks such as landslides, local floods and droughts and help prevent desertification and salinization. A key challenge faced by land, forest and water managers is to maximize the wide range of forest benefits without detriment to water resources and ecosystem function. As part of the follow-up to the Shiga Declaration and to the Warsaw Resolution 2, many events on forests and water were organized by FAO and other institutions between 2008 and 2011. Presenting experiences ranging from research to project implementation worldwide, these events provided new, up-to-date insight into the topic as well as important recommendations for the way forward. FAO took the initiative of synthesizing the main outcomes and recommendations resulting from this process to develop a comprehensive and practical internationalforests and water agenda to address future course of action. [more]
Why invest in sustainable mountain development? 20 December 2011 This booklet summarizes state-of-the-art information on the characteristics of and threats to mountain ecosystems, the environmental services they provide and the impacts of climate change. It explains approaches to sustainable mountain development, including natural resource management, economic opportunities, and mountain policies and governance. It describes the way forward and provides recommendations for addressing sustainable mountain development at the global and local levels. [more]
FAO Forestry Paper on Forests and Water 1 January 2008 This thematic study on forests and water was developed in the context of the Global Forest Resources Assessment programme. It is directed to a broad range of technical experts, scientists and decision-makers, particularly national authorities, and presents recommendations on giving more attention to the role of forests and trees in water protection and management at the national level. It also calls for stronger collaboration between the water and forest communities. [more]

Field projects

The AECID-funded “Inter Regional Project for Poverty Alleviation and Combating Desertification through collaborative Watershed Management” is active in Ecuador, Mauritania and Morocco. It aims to increase the capacity of key stakeholders to design and implement collaborative and integrated watershed management programs in arid and semi-arid lands with a view to fight poverty, improve food security, combat desertification and promote environmental good governance. 

The GEF-funded project “Integrated Natural Resources Management of the Fouta Djallon Highlands” involves 8 countries in West Africa: Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone. The Fouta Djallon Highlands are considered the water tower of the entire sub-region, therefore the projects aims to reverse the root causes of environmental degradation impacting on hydrology, by ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources and by diversifying rural livelihoods and income-generating activities.

In Ecuador, the GEF-funded project “Management of Chimborazo`s Natural Resources” is supporting the conservation and sustainable management of Chimborazo’s páramos, by promoting improved natural resources management practices, strengthening relevant legal and policy frameworks, and building local capacity in the sustainable use of natural resources.


GEOportal of the Regional Integrated Management Programme of the Fouta Djallon Highlands


Guinea: Fouta Djallon Highlands Project


last updated:  Monday, October 23, 2017