In many rural economies, the forest enterprises of families and communities are major contributors to local livelihoods. Photo: FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri
On the International Day of Forests, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on governments, businesses, civil society and other partners to adopt holistic policies and practices to protect, restore and sustain healthy forests.
“Investing in forests is an insurance policy for the planet,” said Mr. Ban in a message on the day, marked annually on 21 March.
Despite their critical importance, forests continue to be razed and damaged. The UN estimates that every year seven million hectares of natural forests are lost and 50 million hectares of forest land are burned.
“The world’s forests are essential to realizing our shared vision for people and the planet. They are central to our future prosperity and the stability of the global climate. That is why the Sustainable Development Goals call for transformative action to safeguard them,” the UN chief noted.
2016 theme: supporting water systems
This year, the theme focuses on forests’ role in supporting water systems. Forested catchments reportedly provide three-quarters of all the freshwater used for farms, industry and homes.
“City dwellers in Bogota, Durban, Jakarta, Madrid, New York, Rio de Janeiro and many other major cities rely on forested areas for a significant portion of their drinking water,” Mr. Ban highlighted. “When we protect and restore forested watersheds, we can save on the cost of building new infrastructure for water purification.”
As the global population grows and demands for water escalate, the UN is warning that safeguarding the water-providing capacity of forests is becoming more urgent. By 2025, nearly 1.8 billion people will live in areas with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could face water-stressed conditions.
Improving water quality and water supplies
Responding to this threat, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today launched a new programme aiming to enhance the critical role of forests in improving water quality and water supplies.
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.
“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 at a ceremony marking the international day 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,” he added, noting that FAO is committed to providing a neutral platform for negotiations and dialogue.