By 2025, some 1.8 billion people will face absolute water scarcity and an estimated two-thirds of the world's population could be living under water-stressed conditions, showed UN statistics released on Monday.
Water scarcity already affects every continent. Around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world's population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation.
Another 1.6 billion people, or almost one quarter of the world's population, face economic water shortage (where countries lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers).
Water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made phenomenon. There is enough freshwater on the planet for seven billion people but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed.
Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and, although there is no global water scarcity as such, an increasing number of regions are chronically short of water.
A panel discussion held at the United Nations headquarters in New York highlighted that safeguarding forests is an essential way to manage global freshwater resources and to avoid water shortages.
Three-fourths of the fresh water that people use every day comes from forested catchment areas and more than 1.6 billion people live on the forests for food, water, medicines and fuel, forest experts said at the panel discussion marking the International Day of Forests which falls on Monday.
Experts said forested watersheds and wetlands influence how and where rain falls and can filter and clean the water. Forests also play an important role in providing and regulating water in a number of ways, from groundwater recharge to erosion control.
"Forests are the planet's natural water towers," one of the experts said.
The International Day of Forests is observed annually on 21 March. UN statistics show that every year, seven million hectares of natural forests are lost and 50 million hectares of forest land are burned.