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.


International Day of Forests 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]


 More videos


Forests and Water - a five-year action plan 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. The Forests and Water: a Five-year Action Plan calls for the tangible integration of science, policy and practice related to forest-water interactions. It emerged from the discussions and recommendations of the Forests and Water Agenda, which would like to encourage greater engagement of stakeholders from around the world in the topic of forests and water. [more]
Forests and Water - International Momentum and Action 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. Forested watersheds supply a high proportion of the world’s accessible fresh water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and ecological needs in both upstream and downstream areas. [more]
FAO Forestry Paper on Forests and Water This thematic study on forests and water was developed in the context of the Global Forest Resources Assessment programme.The availability and quality of clean water in many regions of the world is increasingly threatened by overuse, misuse and pollution. In this context, the relationship between forests and water is a critical issue that must be accorded high priority. Forested catchments supply a high proportion of the water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and ecological needs in both upstream and downstream areas. [more]
Unasylva Issue on Forests and Water Foresters and water management specialists are cooperating more closely than ever before, but their exchange of expertise could be developed further. Informed decisions about integrated forest and water management depend on applied research and its dissemination to policy-makers. With this issue of Unasylva we hope to enhance the flow of information, knowledge – and safe water. [more]


 More publications


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



Guinea: Fouta Djallon Highlands Project


last updated:  Friday, December 22, 2017