Why forests

Water Security

Photo Credit: Alvaro Del Campo

Trees create rain, that’s why in the tropics they are called ‘rainforests’. Rainforests are the beating heart of the earth – pumping water and heat around our planet. South American indigenous people even call them “Corazón del Mundo” – the ‘Heart of the World’.

The Amazon releases 8 trillion tonnes of water vapour into the atmosphere each year 1. That water falls as snow in the Andes and as rain across the biggest bread basket of the world, in the La Plata Basin of Brazil and Argentina. Some even reaches the US and Europe. That’s why water from forests is so important – it underpins our global water supply.

Crops, such as soya, coffee and cocoa, depend on this water and are transported to supermarkets all over the world. Water from rainforests helps to provide energy too. 70% of Brazilian electricity comes from hydropower2.

The world needs water to drink, eat food and keep the lights on – and forests underpin the security of global water supplies.

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Fresh water

Did you know that one large oak tree is capable of lifting up to 40,000 gallons of water out of the ground and discharging it into the air in one year3?

It works like this. Coastal rainforests draw water onto the land from the sea and recycle the rain back into the atmosphere, a process that helps to keep interiors wet and rivers and lakes full. And these rainforests act as a sponge, regulating the supply of water, and smoothing out floods and droughts in hot countries.

Forests are also the protectors of our water sources, controlling erosion, strengthening streams and river banks, and safeguarding upstream water sources. All of this creates the clean drinking water that we need to live.

Pristine forests do not release muddy water. Their water runs as clear as freshly brewed tea. Remove forests and replace them with unsustainable cattle ranching, or crops, or damage them with mining or logging and you pollute rivers and reduce rainfall for hydropower and for agriculture. This has impacts thousands of miles away.

No trees means changing weather

When trees are cut down, temperatures on land rise. This has a knock-on effect on clouds, leading to violent storms. Remove rainforests and rainfall changes, meaning there is less predictable water in rivers. Degraded land can increase water running off the land into rivers. But this increased run-off comes at a huge cost – because it is filled with soil and mud that pollutes rivers and clogs up dams, reducing their capacity to create energy, shortening their life and also hugely increasing the costs of providing clean drinking water. Read more about how forests safeguard energy security here.

Deforestation can alter weather patterns, and climate change acts as an accelerator, driving floods and droughts on a scale never witnessed before.

In 2014, floods in the western Amazon broke all records, destroying homes and crops. Yet, on the eastern side, 22 million people in the mega-city of São Paulo could not get water from their taps, as reservoirs dried to 10% of capacity4. This intense water crisis, in one of the wettest countries of the world, was a wake-up call. Learn how forests can help us adapt to climate change here.

Water heavy food

Our global food security, the necessary water to grow this food and rainforests are intricately linked. Many of our favorite foods – beef, palm oil (a key ingredient for cookies and Nutella), coffee and chocolate to name just a few – are produced in the tropical forested regions of the world. The production of these foods is unfortunately one of the leading drivers of deforestation. Read more about this relationship here.

As forests protect our global water supply, destroying them puts this cycle at risk and can disrupt crop production. And crucially our food is water heavy.

Food exports are at risk if water becomes scarce, as a strong harvest relies on predictable water resources. Increasing floods and droughts disrupt crop supply chains and wreak havoc with food prices. Countries like Peru, Colombia and Brazil, with big agricultural exports and where almost two thirds of their electricity comes from hydropower, are hugely at risk.

It’s a tough balance to strike – between producing more food for global prosperity, stopping deforestation, maintaining water resources and fighting climate change.

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Make change happen

Ecosphere+ projects work at the frontline of this problem. We help farming communities to develop a new relationship with their forest. That means making more food on less land, with less water; so pressure to deforest is reduced. Our projects and the financing we bring, helps increase the productivity of their land and reduces their carbon emissions – because less forest is cleared and burned. So when you support forest carbon assets – we can all help keep trees standing to do what they do best – protect water, regulate clean air, store carbon, and support local people.

Find out more about the work we do all over the world.

Helping to achieve Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable Development Goal 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation
Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life Below Water

[1] Climate & Development Knowledge Network (March 10, 2016) Feature: Water, food and energy security trade-offs in Amazonia. Accessed March 16, 2017

[2] U.S. Energy Information Administration (August 11, 2016) Hydroelectric plants account for more than 70% of Brazil’s electric generation. Accessed March 16, 2017

[3] U.S. Geological Survey (2016) Transpiration – The Water Cycle. Accessed March 16, 2017

[4] Earth Observatory (March 7, 2015) Water Levels Still Dropping Near São Paulo. Accessed March 16, 2017