Chilean community restores forests to increase water flows

“I grew up in a lush, natural environment with abundant vegetation and fast flowing rivers. A privileged landscape, in my opinion,” explains Fabián Carrasco, president of the Rural Drinking Water Committee of Liquiñe, a rural town in the Los Ríos region of Chile.

The majority of the 4,000 inhabitants of Liquiñe belong to the Mapuche ethnic group, and they depend on the forest, rivers and natural ecosystem. Many produce wood for construction or use it to make local crafts. Orchards are of great importance to the community, as well as the honey that is collected in the area. The area has also become a tourist center, with an increasing number of visitors annually, attracted by the beauty of the natural landscape and the thermal areas.

But climate change and deforestation have left villages in this region without natural water courses. Climate change has led to shorter winters, and according to Carrasco, “there is less snow, streams are disappearing and there aren’t many glacier reserves left in the mountain range.” Forestry activity has led to “the indiscriminate sowing of pines and eucalyptus, destroying with it all the biodiversity of the area, including water sources.”

Approximately 75% of all accessible fresh water in the world, destined for agricultural, domestic, urban, industrial and environmental uses, comes from forests. Its proper management is increasingly important as 80% of the world’s population currently faces some type of insecurity in accessing clean drinking water, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

With the support of the UN-REDD Programme, Chile’s National Forest Corporation (CONAF) began restoring the native forests in Los Rios in 2016. The goal of the project is to increase the availability of water resources for different uses and to protect water sources for the future. “If there are no forests, there is no water,” says Carrasco. “Sometimes people understand it backwards, so that is why it is necessary to make the population understand that the whole earth is in a tight balance and we must protect it.”

The joint UN-REDD and CONAF program includes the restoration of forests and training small and medium landowners in the sustainable management of forests in a manner that increases the flow and catchment of water. For Carrasco, the impact of the program so far has served to create more awareness. “Climate change affects us all,” he says. “If we work together and replicate this type of project, we can preserve our environment.”

Although part of the forest in Los Rios has now been restored, it will take years to see the results from this project. The increase in water flows will have to be measured over the long term. As Carrasco says: “What man takes a few days to destroy, nature takes years to rebuild.”