Today, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) inaugurates 2011 as the International Year of the Forests. In our rapidly urbanizing world where many people live detached from forests, wetlands, and other “wild” spaces, it is easy to forget their impact upon our daily lives and upon the essential resources and services we take for granted. However, in reality these wild places provide numerous essential ecosystem services—especially those related to water security—including storage, filtration, increased precipitation, and localized climate cooling.
Considering that 80% of the world’s population lives in areas where water resources are considered to be insecure and more than 75% of the world’s freshwater supplies come from forested (or partially forested) watersheds, forests and wetlands play a critical and valuable role in helping to secure water supplies. In the face of increasing stresses from population growth, land degradation, deforestation, and climate change, the services of these ecosystems are likely to become even more valuable over the coming decades.
So forests and wetlands are important not only for their own sake, but for the valuable role they play in providing cities, agricultural areas, and human populations worldwide with stable, clean water supplies. But how valuable? One study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) estimates that the water-related services of tropic forests account for up to 45% of their total value (USD 7,000/hectacre annually). More than the value of timber, tourism, and carbon storage combined.
Water security can only be achieved by addressing a multitude of economic, social, and environmental factors and by analyzing how these factors interplay and interact to create a supply, delivery, disposal, and regeneration system. Forests are an excellent place to start water security analysis and interventions.