26. Preserving Forests and Water

The recent cyclone in Chennai, Vardha last December, uprooted 100 year old trees and turned green Chennai to a sad brown town. Unless each of us makes an effort to replace these portable oxygen factories, Chennai and its environment will suffer a shortage of rain and shade.

Forests cover 1/3 of the earth’s surface. They sustain 1.6 billion people as a source of livelihood. More than 80% of all creatures, animals, plants and insects live in these forests. Yet 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed every year and account for 20% of the global green house gas emissions.

The World Bank’s starting point now is to ask how can practices that have often led to significant forest degradation, tax evasion and corruption, be reformed, so that forests contribute more revenue to the State, produce more and better jobs, and result in more sustainable development?


Forests are critical for the planet’s supply of water through rain. Their roots protect ground water supply while preventing soil erosion. Forest watersheds and wetlands supply 75% of the world’s fresh water supplying, one third of our cities drinking water. Forests act as natural water filters.

Manoel Sobral Filho, Director of the UN Forum for Forests, speaks of massive growth of populations in Africa and Asia reaching 8.4billion people in 15 years. Some of the world’s largest cities depend on our forest water resources: Durban, Jakarta, Rio De Janeiro, Bogota, New York and Madrid. 75% of all fresh water is provided through forest catchments.  Over 42% of the world’s workforces are heavily water dependent. Forests are a natural safety net during famine providing fruits, leaves, grains, nuts, timber and wood.

After the devastating floods on the Yangtze river in China, reforestation using economically productive trees like chestnut, ginko and bamboo, helped boost average annual income by 150% between 1998 and 2014. In Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley, forest co-operatives were used to encourage natural regeneration by limiting wood, charcoal and fodder extraction. This improved water availability for 65000 people. Physical and financial security of communities can be greatly enhanced by growing more trees and regenerating forests. In Liberia, timber was once used to buy weapons and fuel. Today forest co-operatives have changed everything.

So every year, plan to plant one tree a month in a protected area in your house, in a school or a community centre. Take your own steps to preserve water and planet earth.



Dr. Rekha Shetty

Water Warrior