The world celebrated the International Day for Biological Diversity as led by the United Nations (UN) on May 22.
Observed since 2002, the day was created by the UN General Assembly to increase the world’s awareness and understanding of biodiversity issues.
This year, to coincide with the designation of 2013 as the International Year for Water Cooperation, it revolved around the theme “Water and Biodiversity.”
Our planet is covered with water, but the image we see in our blue planet can be misleading. Of all the water we have in the world, only 3 percent is freshwater. And then most of this freshwater is locked in ice caps and glaciers. In the end, only 1 percent of freshwater is available for us as liquid water, or a mere 0.03 percent of all the water in the world. This will be shared by the world’s 7 billion people.
In the Philippines, there is an awareness that water quantity is depleting, while water quality is deteriorating. In fact, in the United Nations World Water Development Report published in 2012, we were identified as one of the “hot spots” in the Asia-Pacific region in six out of 10 categories. In addition to quantity and quality concerns, we were identified as being prone to floods, storms, drought and climate change.
Recognizing this, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) key message this year is simple: “Biodiversity is a solution to help achieve water security.”
It is a simple idea, provided we understand another key fact—water is an ecosystem service. To quote the CBD, “Ecosystems, especially forests and wetlands, play a central role in the water cycle and influence the local, regional and global availability and quality of water. This means that ecosystem management has a central role to play in managing water.”
What this means is that you take care of species habitats, like forests, you take care of the biodiversity they support. This biodiversity in turn will help maintain both the quality and quantity of water supplies. You take good care of forests, you preserve the water cycle.
This point bears repeating, and quite unfortunately even at these crucial times, because it is not often acknowledged, and sometimes still doubted.
In 2012, an Expert Group of the Convention on Biological Diversity stressed that ecosystem-water interactions are critically important and need to be factored into land and water management. For example, the presence of large expanses of forest helps maintain regional water balance.
A “rainforest,” like that of the Amazon, is called such “not because it is an area where it rains a lot—but because the forest contributes to maintaining its own rainfall.” The work of this expert group was based on peer-reviewed scientific and technical literature supplemented by peer-reviewed examples of practice.
No doubt there are generalizations and exceptions can always be made, as the experts said.
But it’s also equally irresponsible to completely miss out on the forest-water relationship.
So happy Biological Diversity day, everyone. And as we conserve water, let’s protect our forests, too!