By 2025, some 1.8 billion people will face absolute water scarcity, and an estimated two-thirds of the world's population could be living under water-stressed conditions, showed UN statistics released on Monday.
A panel discussion held at the UN headquarters highlighted that safeguarding forests is an essential way to manage global freshwater resources and to avoid water shortages.
Three-fourths of the fresh water that people use every day comes from forested catchment areas, and more than 1.6 billion people live on the forests for food, water, medicines and fuel, forest experts said at the panel discussion marking the International Day of Forests which falls on Monday.
Experts said forested watersheds and wetlands influence how and where rain falls, and can filter and clean the water. Forests also play an important role in providing and regulating water in a number of ways, from groundwater recharge to erosion control.
"The protection and restoration of forest watersheds and catchments is not just climate-smart; it is a cost-effective and green alternative to new infrastructure development for water purification," said Manoel Sobral Filho, director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat.
"Forests are the planet's natural water towers," he added.
The International Day of Forests is observed annually on March 21. UN statistics show that every year, 7 million hectares of natural forests are lost and 50 million hectares of forest land are burned.
On the occasion of the day, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization launched a new program aiming to improve water security through forest management in eight West African countries: Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
By promoting the program, the UN agency promises to develop a set of standardized monitoring indicators and field methods to identify which forest management interventions result in improved water quality and enhanced supplies.
This data will be in turn used to develop better-informed practices and policies to unleash the full potential of forests in improving water supply, according to the agency.
Also, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on governments, businesses as well as civil society to adopt holistic policies and practices to protect, restore and sustain healthy forests based on the UN-initiated Sustainable Development Agenda.