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Forests and Water: Key elements of environmental and economic stability

In March every year the United Nations commemorates two important days. The International Day of Forests (March 21) and World Water Day (March 22) are celebrated together to focus attention on the fact that the health of these two natural elements are interconnected with the economic and social health of the entire population of our planet.

Forests cover one third of the global land mass and are home to more than 80 per cent of all species of animals, plants and insects. Around 1.6 billion people, including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures, depend on forests for their livelihood.

Watersheds and wetlands supply 75 per cent of the world’s accessible fresh water. About one-third of the world’s largest cities obtain a significant proportion of their drinking water directly from protected forest areas. And yet, more than 13 million hectares of forests are destroyed every year, accounting for 12 – 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The 2016 UN World Water Development Report, Water and Jobs notes that three out of four jobs in the global workforce are heavily or moderately dependent on water, while nearly 80 per cent of the world’s population is exposed to high levels of threat to water security.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts that for each degree of global warming, approximately seven per cent of the global population will see an almost 20 per cent decrease in renewable water resources. At the same time, the rate of groundwater withdrawals has increased by 1 per cent per year since the 1980s. 

However, the Water and Jobs report also shows that timely investments in protecting forests and water resources would provide significant economic and environmental benefits. For example, small scale investments in projects that provide safe water and sanitation access in Africa would provide an economic return equivalent to nearly five per cent of the continent’s gross domestic product.

A study in Latin America found that investing $1 billion US in expanding water supply and sanitation networks would result in 100,000 direct jobs. The US Bureau of Economic Analysis found that each job created in the local water and wastewater industry creates 3.68 indirect jobs in the natural economy.

Continuing the transition to a greener economy will also lead to more jobs and help protect the environment. The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that 7.7 million people were already employed in the renewable energy sector in 2014.

It is proven that responsible forest and water management practices have a positive impact on our planet and economy. It is no longer a choice of jobs or the environment. Preserving our natural forests and water resources creates jobs and helps combat climate change.