ROME, Italy, March 22, 2016 (ENS) – Nearly half of the world’s workers are employed in water-related sectors, while at the same time, the water security of eight out of 10 people is under threat, the United Nations said today, highlighting the links between water, forests and jobs.

Today is World Water Day, marked with events across the world, while yesterday was the International Day of Forests. It is no accident that the two days are marked together as water and forests are interdependent and billions of people depend of both resources for employment.

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Internally Displaced Persons at the Nifasha Camp in North Darfur have access to water for only two hours. This woman leaves a water access point with empty jerry cans just after closing time. Jan. 2014. (Photo by Albert González Farran / UN)

Forested watersheds and wetlands supply 75 percent of the world’s accessible fresh water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and ecological needs, while over one-third of the world’s largest urban centers depend on protected forests for their water.

In addition to the billions of workers in water sectors, 1.3 billion people, one-fifth of the global population, depend on forests for employment, forest products, and contributions to livelihoods and incomes.

Forests provide and regulate water at the local and regional levels, from groundwater recharge and erosion control to promoting precipitation through evapotranspiration.

In addition to boosting supplies, forests also maintain water quality. Every $1 spent on sustainable forest watershed management can save $7.5 to $200 in water treatment costs, estimates the FAO.

On Monday, at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s headquarters in Rome, a event took place to recognize the International Day of Forests on the theme of Forests and Water.

There the FAO opened a new effort to enhance the function of forests in improving water quality and water supplies.

The program will begin by boosting water security in eight West African countries: Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Sierra-Leone.

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Participants at the FAO Forests and Water event in Rome admire the new poster, Mar. 21, 2016 (Photo courtesy FAO)

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.

First a forest-water monitoring framework will be established to help countries assess potential forest benefits in terms of water resources. The monitoring will be piloted in West Africa’s Fouta Djallon Highlands starting this month. Funded by the Global Environmental Facility, the program is being jointly implemented by FAO, the UN Environment Programme and the African Union.

“The role of forests for water is becoming even more important in the face of climate change, with increased incidences of extreme climate events such as flooding and drought, and increased water insecurity,” said FAO Assistant Director General of Forestry René Castro.

“The new program that we’ve launched today aims to showcase that forestry is not always in competition with agriculture and urban development for water, but on the contrary can address water and food security issues and produce more resilient landscapes,” said Castro.

“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 in Rome.

“FAO is committed to providing a neutral platform for negotiations and dialogue, to encourage greater interaction among all the parties working to achieve sustainably managed forests,” he said, offering help to the stressed region.

“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,” said da Silva.

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Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales, Australia Nov. 2013 (Photo by Vern)

Irina Bokova, who heads the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, also sees the need for increased funding to ensure a forested, water-secure world.

“Creating and preserving decent jobs in the face of climate change and water scarcity will require far greater investments in science, technology and innovation,” she said today.

Bokova called for governments, civil society and the private sector to work together to promote “high-quality jobs, while preserving the environment and ensuring sustainable water management will help to eradicate poverty, promote growth and craft a future of decent work for all.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that despite its crucial importance, water as a sector does not receive the attention it deserves.

“Water is central to human survival, the environment and the economy,” the secretary-general said. He wants everyone to use this day as an opportunity to learn more about water issues, tell others and take action to make a difference.

People with the least access to water and sanitation often also lack access to health care and stable jobs, perpetuating the cycle of poverty, said Ban.

“The basic provision of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services at home, at school and in the workplace enables a robust economy by contributing to a healthy and productive population and workforce,” he said.

He called for action to address water inequality, as parts of effort to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Goal 6 aims to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

An official World Water Day event at the UN International Labour Organization, ILO, in Geneva, took place today on behalf of UN-Water, the UN inter-agency mechanism on all freshwater issues.

In a video message, ILO Director-General and Chair of UN-Water Guy Ryder called for “better water and better jobs.” He said about 1.5 billion people work in water-related sectors, but many are not recognized for the work they do, nor protected by basic labor rights.

For instance, he said, a woman from The Gambia spends much of her day fetching water, when she could have been working in the formal sector, if water delivery were provided.

“Water is work,” Ryder said. “It requires workers for its safe and clean delivery, and at the same time, it can create and improve conditions of work.”

As part of World Water Day, the UN today is launching the UN World Water Development Report, focused on the advancement of the prospect of decent work for all.

Among its findings, the report estimated that some two billion people require access to improved sanitation, particularly women and girls.

To mark the World Water Day, UNICEF kicked off its #ClimateChain Instagram campaign, highlighting the link between water, climate change and the environment. The campaign will run until April 22, when the Paris Climate Agreement reached last December will open for signature.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2016. All rights reserved.