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On International Day of Forests, FAO launches new forest and water programme

Eight West African countries explore ways of leveraging contribution of forests to water security

Photo: ©FAO/Rosetta Messori
FAO is using this year's International Day of Forests celebration to discuss ways of enhancing the critical role of forests in providing water and food security.

21 March, 2016, Rome - FAO today launched a new programme aiming to enhance the critical role of forests in improving water quality and water supplies, on the occasion of the UN's International Day of Forests.  

The programme, focused specifically on the close relationship between forests and water, will start off by looking at ways to improve water security in eight West African countries: Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Sierra-Leone. The agency will work with local communities to raise their awareness of the interactions between forests and water and help them to integrate forest management in their agricultural practices to improve water supplies.

FAO is using this year's International Day of Forests celebration to shine a spotlight on how forests can contribute to improving water availability, especially in countries facing scarcities of this precious resource which is becoming increasingly important in the face of climate change.  

"The challenges are many, but the goal is very clear: to ensure the sustainable management of forest and water resources on the planet," said FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva in his remarks at the IDF ceremony in Rome. "Promoting forest restoration and avoiding forest loss will require a significantly increased level of funding and innovative financing, including from private funds and traditional investors, in the coming years."

"FAO is committed to providing a neutral platform for negotiations and dialogue, to encourage greater interaction among all the parties working to achieve sustainably managed forests," he added.

Focus on improved monitoring

The programme kicks-off with a first focus on setting up a forest-water monitoring framework to help countries assess potential forest benefits in terms of water resources. This will involve developing a set of standardised monitoring indicators and field methods to identify which forest management interventions result in improved water quality and enhanced supplies. This data will be in turn used to develop better-informed practices and policies to unleash the full potential of forests in improving water supply.

The monitoring framework will be piloted in West Africa's Fouta Djallon Highlands, with field activities having kicked off this month. The project, funded by the Global Environmental Facility, is being jointly implemented by FAO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the African Union (AU).

Forests and the water cycle

The water security of eight out of ten people in the world is under threat. Forests have an important role in providing and regulating water at the local and regional levels in a number of ways, from groundwater recharge and erosion control to promoting precipitation through evapotranspiration.

Forested watersheds and wetlands provide about 75 percent of the planet's freshwater resources, while over one third of the world's largest urban centres depend on protected forests for a significant proportion of their water.

In addition to boosting supplies, forests also maintain water quality: it is estimated that every $1 spent on sustainable forest watershed management can save $7.5 to $200 in water treatment costs.

"The role of forests for water is becoming even more important in the face of climate change, with increased incidences of extreme climate events such as flooding and drought, and increased water insecurity," said FAO Assistant Director General of Forestry, René Castro. "The new programme that we've launched today aims to showcase that forestry is not always in competition with agriculture and urban development for water, but on the contrary can address water and food security issues and produce more resilient landscapes".

The International Day of Forests celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests, and trees outside forests, for the benefit of current and future generations.

FAO also used the occasion of the day to highlight the major contribution of forests to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While SDG 15 addresses the need to sustainably manage forests and trees, forests also play a vital role in achieving those goals related to ending poverty, achieving food security, and ensuring sustainable energy, and in particular SDG 6 on providing clean water and sanitation.

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