Watershed management

Key messages

  • Forested watersheds and wetlands supply 75 percent of the world’s accessible fresh water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and ecological needs
  • About 90% 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


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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

Paying for priceless value: securing forests’ role in water quality Given the many threats to the Earth’s water supply, the role of forests has never been more important.The role of forest ecosystems in preserving water quality is largely underestimated. To ensure healthy water, strategies for optimizing purification, regulating surface flows and controlling erosion will increasingly need to be a part of forest management and planning. [more]

More press releases


last updated:  Monday, June 3, 2019