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The link between forest and water is key to the 2030 Development Agenda

Published: 24 March 2016

Forest ecosystems safeguard clean water supply, aquatic wildlife and increase landscape resilience to water-related hazards. As global demand for freshwater rises and demand for water resources increase, land managers and policy-makers need to carefully manage this resource.  “One third of the world's 105 largest cities obtain a significant portion of their drinking water from protected forested areas, including Sydney, Tokyo, New York, Washington, Quito, San Francisco, Kiev and Moscow. Municipalities and water suppliers recognize the importance of healthy and intact forests for their citizens and often invest in forests upstream, for example using the approach of payment for ecosystem services” recalled UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach to some 120 participants gathered in Geneva on the occasion of the “Forest and Water” workshop organised to celebrate the International Day of Forests on 21 March.

The safe management of the forest resource is also needed to ensure that fish and other water fauna have suitable habitat. “Forested buffer strips along rivers and streams are crucial for maintaining ecological character. Without forests, temperatures rise and evaporation rates from soil and water increase, contributing to wetland loss, land degradation and desertification” said Ania Grobicki, Acting Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Who thinks about the value of a breath of air, a sip of fresh water or a walk through the forest? Who considers that a stream provides fish because of the clean and cool water afforded by the forest? These goods and services are provided by forests naturally, but that does not mean that they do not have a value or that their provision is without cost. Measuring the ecosystem services provided by forests is not so easy, but it is crucial to compare thee gains and losses regarding land use change. Knowing the value for environmental amenities helps managers and owners justify the full cost of managing these resources, in a way that address their provision. Decisions may be facilitated if the alternative costs for slope stabilization or water purification appear, services that once were provided by the forest.

This year’s celebrations of the International Day of Forests were jointly organised by the joint UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section with the UNECE Secretariat of the Water Convention and its Protocol on Water and Health, the Housing and Land Management Unit and the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, as well as with the support from the Swiss Confederation and the Government of Finland, and marked a starting point for further work on the topic.

Valuation and payments for forest ecosystem services in relation to water will be analysed and discussed in depth in the forthcoming UNECE/FAO study paper.

For more information, please contact Theresa Loeffler (theresa.loeffler@unece.org) or visit the UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section website on the International Day of Forests 2016 http://www.unece.org/index.php?id=41874#/

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