FAO sees forests key for high quality water supply

08:27, March 22, 2011      

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Better forest management is needed to maximize water-related benefits from forests which are key for high quality water supply, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said.

By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity and two-thirds of the world's population may experience water-stress conditions.

According to members of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), the international organization involved in forests, forests capture and store water and can play an important role in providing drinking water for millions of people in the world's mega-cities.

"Forests are part of the natural infrastructure of any country and are essential to the water cycle," said Eduardo Rojas-Briales, assistant director General of the FAO Forestry Department.

Speaking ahead of the UN World Water Day which will be celebrated this year on March 22, Rojas-Briales called upon countries to pay more attention to forest protection and management for the provision of clean water.

"Forests are in most cases an optimal land cover for catchments supplying drinking water. Forest watersheds supply a high proportion of water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and ecological needs. "

The remarks came as Kenya's Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai accuses top multinational companies in the country of degrading the country's forests and ecosystems in order to make profits.

Maathai alleged that some companies in the timber industry have failed to conserve the country's environment, despite calls to do so, while others continue building on riparian reserves thereby interfering with the water flow.

Maathai, who singled out a leading bank as one of those that are putting up structures on a river reserve, arguing that such companies undermined efforts to conserve the environment.

Moreover, forests and trees contribute to the reduction of water-related risks such as landslides, local floods and droughts and help prevent decertification and salinization.

Today, at least one third of the world's biggest cities, such as New York, Singapore, Jakarta, Rio de Janeiro, Bogota, Madrid and Cape Town draw a significant portion of their drinking-water from forested areas.

If properly utilized, forest catchment areas can provide at least a partial solution for municipalities needing more or cleaner water.

"The management of water and forests are closely linked and require innovative policy solutions which take into account the cross-cutting nature of these vital resources", said Jan McAlpine, director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat.

"The International Year of Forests, 2011 provides a unique platform to raise awareness of issues such as the water-soil- forests nexus, which directly affect the quality of people's lives, their livelihoods and their food security."

Countries around the world are stepping up policy and project activities to increase forest areas for the protection of soil and water.

Eight percent of the world's forests have soil and water conservation as their primary objective.

While every hectare of forests make a huge contribution to regulating water cycles, around 330 million hectares of the world's forests are designated for soil and water conservation, avalanche control, sand dune stabilization, decertification control or coastal protection.

This area increased by 59 million hectares between 1990 and 2010. The recent increase is largely due to large-scale planting in China for protective purposes.

Work is also continuing at the project level, particularly in transboundary water courses. One very prominent example is the "Fouta Djallon Highlands (FDH) Integrated Natural Resources Management Project" in West Africa.

This 10-year project, supported by the Global Environment Facility and jointly implemented by FAO, UNEP and the African Union, involves eight countries (Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Sierra Leone).

The Fouta Djallon Highlands are the point of origin of a number of international water courses, notably the Gambia, Niger and Senegal rivers.

Shifting agriculture and tree felling for charcoal production led to heavy deforestation and depleted water resources in the area.

In order to improve local livelihoods and water resources, the project aims to ensure the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources through the restoration of forest cover.

Maathai has called on the government to replace eucalyptus trees with indigenous trees so as to facilitate the country's conservation efforts.

She asked the government to lease out land to retailers of timber so as to reduce the impact such companies have on the country's forests.

Source: Xinhua
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