Forest and Water Programme

Lessons learned from COVID-19 crisis: Facing the "new normal" and improving the future of the forest and water management


How do we want our future to look like after the COVID-19 pandemic? This was one of the questions raised previously “Lessons learned from COVID-19 crisis to the better management of our forest and water”.  The COVID-19 impact on human life, forests, and water has already resulted in short term consequences. A reduction in water traffic and in waste dumped into rivers contributed to the water quality improvement, evidencing a positive effect of the pandemic. However, it also presented negative impacts. The inability of environmental law implementation during COVID restrictions can increase deforestation and forest degradation, which can have a direct impact on water quality and quantity, as trees and water are highly interdependent resources. 

There are several actions that can be taken to improve the management of forests and water, based on the consequences and lessons learned from the pandemic. Some actions include society engagement, holistic approaches and nature-based solutions.  

Connecting humans and forest 

As lockdown restrictions become more flexible, we are turning to nature to improve our mental health and reduce stress levels. This growing contact with green areas can have a huge impact on the recognition of its benefits, as well as the valorization and protection of trees and forests. Besides the benefits related to physical activity, social cohesion, and stress reduction, urban green areas also can address water-related disasters, such as floods and drought, which are increasing due to climate change. Well- managed green spaces and water are innovative solutions that enhance the resilience of cities to these challenges, as trees and forests help to cope with drought and flooding by capturing fog water, reducing surface water runoff, promoting soil infiltration and groundwater recharge. For example, in Curitiba, Brazil, the green areas increased over the past few decades resulted in 64.5 square meters of green space for each resident and mitigate flooding in the city The increased consciousness on the importance of green spaces should be followed by the conservation, restoration and extension of these areas, encouraging community action to manage and protect forests from further human incursions.

Holistic approach to the role of forest–water interactions 

The COVID-19 crisis is exposing the importance of improving forest practices at landscape level. The extent of forests, as well as where they are located within the landscape, can result in a range of water-related benefits or negative impacts. If these forests are managed properly can support multifunctional, resilient and productive landscapes. Forests in upper catchments, for example, provide high-quality water resources for downstream areas, supporting many agricultural activities, such as irrigation. IRajasthan, India, landscape-scale forest restoration in the state following historic droughts in the mid-80s, resulted in rivers flowing again after the monsoon season, the reestablishment of fisheries, increased groundwater levels, 20 to 80 percent more productive farmland and about 33 percent more forest cover.  Solutions focused on small-scale water harvesting as well as forest and soil restoration, especially in upper catchment areas was implemented to increase the quantity and availability of water in the state. 

Forests are part of the solution 

The management of forests as nature-based solutions can address pandemics and other societal challenges in an effective and adaptive way, providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits. The adoption of nature-based solutions for water can amplify and optimize the performance and financial returns of engineered water infrastructure such as dams, levees and reservoirs. For example, forests can regulate water and soil run-off, safeguarding reservoirs from sedimentation, reducing costly clean-up efforts and ensuring continued electricity generation. In Senegal, the adoption of nature-based solutions resulted in the world’s largest mangrove reforestation project, which led to the protection of arable land from salt contamination, rice paddies restoration, and replenishing of fish stocks by up to 18,000 additional tonnes per year. Mangrove restoration also reduced the impacts of storm waves and flooding, building resilience for climate change and future challenges. 

In fact, Forests are at the heart of a green recovery from COVID-19 and they are one of the solutions to mitigate future unexpected impacts on Earth. What are the other lessons learned we can apply to improve the sustainable management of forests and water?  Share your thoughts with us on how we can move forward and build a better future together.