Countries In Asia And The Pacific Need To Work Together To Protect Our Common Forest And Fresh Water Resources

While each day has its own theme, ‘Forests and Innovation’ and ‘Water for Peace’, their natural bond is evident and essential.

March 14, 2024, 10:58 a.m.

United we stand, divided we fall – it’s an old cliché, but when talking about access to fresh water in this Asia and Pacific region, it’s worth reminding ourselves how imperative it is to work together, within countries and across borders, to share and protect this precious resource.

Like water, our forests recognize no boundaries, but they are equally vulnerable and play such an important part in our region’s commonly shared ecosystem. They too need a united front to protect and restore our forests for the common good.

Taken together, water and forests are two of mother nature’s children.

This month, the world and our Asia-Pacific region observes two special days, back-to-back – International Day of Forests on the 21st of March, and World Water Day on the 22nd.

While each day has its own theme, ‘Forests and Innovation’ and ‘Water for Peace’, their natural bond is evident and essential. The latter reminds us that water can be a tool for peace, but unfair advantage by one country or community, or lack of access to water, can spark and intensify conflict and hostility. Likewise, neglect and over-exploitation of forests can lead to land disputes that can spill across borders, and impact communities, particularly those of Indigenous peoples in our region.

This is why countries in Asia and the Pacific need to work together to protect and enhance our common forest and water resources for this generation and for those still to come.

From the perspective of forests and water’s link to agrifood systems in Asia and the Pacific – the systems that provide us with the nutrition we need each day to survive and thrive – the stakes are high. In this region, water resources form the basis of agrarian prosperity and economic development. The vast majority of aquaculture produced in the world comes from this region, as just one example.

Yet more than 90 percent of this region’s population is on the brink of a water crisis, with water scarcity increasing across Asia and the Pacific. Transboundary water resources add a layer of complexity to the water scarcity challenges, with over 780 million people depending on transboundary rivers in the Asia-Pacific region.

And so governance of these shared water resources is vital for sustaining livelihoods, agriculture, and development, as well as for securing regional and international peace and prosperity. However, national water policy and regulatory responses in the Asia-Pacific region are often limited and, in some cases, not effectively operationalized in practice. Meantime, transboundary water treaties and institutions need greater political support.

Hence, there is an urgent need to support countries in building stronger policy frameworks to navigate water scarcity, ensure inclusion in water management decisions, collect data, and establish sustainable and equitable water allocation systems. Working together, with shared commitments and actions, water and peace can coexist.

In this region, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has established an FAO Asia-Pacific Water Scarcity Programme to bring water use to within sustainable limits. FAO is also helping to improve transboundary cooperation for effective management of shared water resources, working with eight countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Reducing degradation of forests goes hand-in-hand with securing water resources. In forestry, FAO has worked with partners to compile a range of innovative technologies in the forest sector. Many of these innovations are being successfully applied in the region. Examples include the use of drones and advance remote sensing in forest management. Many countries in this region, with help from FAO, are deploying geospatial technologies for strengthening national forest monitoring.

Such innovations are important in the context of promoting sustainable supply and use of forest ecosystem services and crucial for advancing a sustainable bioeconomy. Employing them further can help achieve many other objectives too, like mapping and securing customary land which can empower the region’s Indigenous Peoples.

Indeed, innovative approaches under the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration can contribute one third of the total climate mitigation needed to limit warming to below 2°C by 2030, while boosting food security and livelihoods.

We can already see the power of research and science and how they are pushing the boundaries of what we can do to protect and make better use of our forests and our water resources. By doing so, we can provide significant socio-economic and environmental benefits for countries in the Asia and Pacific region.

Let’s work together to help Mother Nature’s children not only survive but thrive.

Jong-Jin Kim is the Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

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