Watershed management

Key messages

  • Some of the world’s largest cities obtain a significant proportion of their drinking water directly from forested watersheds. 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.


Protecting our forests protects our clean water Forests are vital to our water supply. They influence how and where rain falls, and they filter and clean our water. By protecting the world’s forests, we are also protecting the clean water that we depend upon for our survival. [more]
FAO and the Mau Forest Kenya's Mau Forest stretches over the hills between the Rift Valley and Lake Victoria. Rain falls every day here for at least six months of the year, and water trapped by the Mau feeds 12 important rivers and five major lakes. [more]
Mountains and Climate Change: A Global Concern In a changing climate, mountain regions are among the most vulnerable. They provide the world with resources such as water, timber, biodiversity and hydraulic energy and they are at risk. [more]


 All watershed management videos


A guide to forest–water management Intact native forests and well-managed planted forests can be a relatively cheap approach to water management while generating multiple co-benefits. This paper argues that water-centered forests can provide nature-based solutions to ensuring global water resilience. This guide reviews emerging techniques and methodologies, provides guidance and recommendations on how to manage forests for their water ecosystem services, and offers insights into the business and economic cases for managing forests for water ecosystem services. [more]
Forest and water nexus elearning course This elearning course is intended to provide on overview of forest and water relationships, and an understanding of the impacts of changing landscapes on water resources. It can be used as a stand-alone course for those interested in learning about the forest-water nexus, or as an introduction for those who will engage in workshops using the FAO capacity development facilitation guide on Advancing the Forest and Water Nexus. [more]
Forests: nature-based solutions for water Forested watersheds provide an estimated 75 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater resources, on which more than half the Earth’s people depend for domestic, agricultural, industrial and environmental purposes. Forests therefore, are vital natural infrastructure, and their management can provide “nature-based solutions” for a range of water-related societal challenges. [more]

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Expert interviews

Water and forests must be managed sustainably to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals 24 July 2018 Maria Patek, Director General, Forestry and Sustainability, Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism, Austria, explains that forests and water are closely linked and that both must be managed sustainably in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). [more]
Understanding the forest-water nexus necessary to better understand climate and environmental issues 11 July 2018 Meine van Noordwijk, the Co-Chair of the Global Forest Expert Panel (GFEP) of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), explains that in order to integrate the forest-water nexus into policy and practice, it is important to understand that water exists not only on the ground but also in the atmosphere where it shapes climatic conditions and related matters. [more]

Press releases

Management of world’s forests must be water-centred 25 August 2021 Forests and trees play a vital role in meeting the world's increasing demand for water and need to be managed for water-related ecosystem services, according to a new guide co-published by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, the United States Forest Service and partners, and launched today at World Water Week. [more]
Innovative solutions needed for wetlands in crisis 2 February 2021 With funding support from France and the European Union and coordination from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the RESSOURCE project is working to find long-term sustainable solutions that preserve and restore wetlands and improve community livelihoods. [more]

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last updated:  Thursday, September 2, 2021