U.S. Water News Online
GENEVA -- Cities worldwide can slash the cost of supplying
clean, safe drinking water simply by protecting and expanding nearby
forests, the World Wildlife Fund says.
In a 112-page study, the international conservation group looked
at 105 metropolises in rich and poor nations, including New York,
Tokyo, Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro and Bombay. It carried out the
research with the World Bank.
``A natural forest plays a key role in filtering water,'' said Dr.
Chris Elliott, head of the forests program at WWF -- known outside
North America as the Worldwide Fund for Nature.
Woodlands act as buffers against pollutants. By preventing
erosion, they stop sediment to which bacteria cling from getting into
rivers and streams.
Forests go hand in hand with regular municipal water treatment
plants, said WWF. By ``pre-filtering'' water, they make a plant's job
easier -- and cheaper.
It cited the experience of New York City, which in 1997 decided
against building a new water filtration plant for $6-8 billion plus
up to $300-500 million a year in running costs.
New York authorities decided instead to boost their protection of
woodlands in the Catskills and Delaware watersheds. The plan is
costing the city $1-1.5 billion over 10 years.
One of the best examples is Melbourne, Australia, which draws 90
percent of its water from forested areas, the study said.
But the growth of cities in many parts of the world is putting
pressure on forests, which often are destroyed to make farmland.
``For many cities, time is running out,'' said David Cassells, a
World Bank forest expert. ``Protecting forests around water catchment
areas is no longer a luxury but a necessity. When they are gone, the
costs of providing clean and safe drinking water to urban areas will
Already, water related illnesses -- including simple diarrhea --
kill five million people each year, most of them in poor countries,
the report said. Over a billion people worldwide, mainly poor city
dwellers, still lack access to clean drinking water or adequate
sanitation. Many governments simply cannot afford to build treatment
plants, meaning forests are an essential alternative.
Some countries already protecting forests need to do more, the
Mount Kenya's forests, for example, save Kenya more than $20
million a year by protecting the water catchment area of two of the
country's main river systems. However, illegal charcoal burning,
logging and road construction have hurt the quality of water going to
the capital, Nairobi.
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