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Naturefor Water

Global water demand is anticipated to increase by 55% by 2050.*


The global water deficit is projected to reach 40% by as soon as 2030.*


SDG Integration

Biodiversity Conservation



Support forIPLCs

Many of the NBS for water security implemented today are inspired by or consistent with long-held Indigenous and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (ITEK). For centuries, this knowledge has recognized the landscape-scale connections between natural ecosystems and water security. Recipients of UNDP's Equator Prize provide prime examples of NBS for water already in action in Indigenous and local communities around the world.


To better understand how nature-based solutions (NBS) feature in national water policies we analyzed 126 national water management plans from 70 countries.Learn more about how integrating NBS into national water management plans builds long-term water security.

of water infrastructure investments go toward nature-based solutions for water security, globally.*




About 90% of natural disasters are water- related, mostly droughts and floods. *


Approximately 70% of natural wetlands have been lost since 1900 and 70% of freshwater use goes toward agriculture.*




Safeguarding, conserving, restoring and sustainably managing these natural ecosystems, and harnessing nature-based solutions for water, can enhance water security as well as provide co-benefits that support achievement of the SDGs. In particular, nature-based solutions support:


Financing NBS

Learn about the preliminary findings from a forthcoming analysis of national water plans.

NBS also provide co-benefits for the following SDGs:


An estimated two-thirds of water-cycle-regulating forests worldwide are degraded.*



Poverty reduction

Ecosystem-based climate mitigation and adaptation and disaster risk reduction

Water security

Political stability

Sustainable livelihoods

Sustainable urban areas

Improved food security

Reduced inequality

Improved public health

24 of the 70 countries (34%) refer to the SDGs, yet all of the countries under review have adopted the SDGs. Implementing nature-based solutions to secure water quality and provision can assist in further achievement of these goals and others, especially those that are climate dependent. Linkages to SDGs in national water plans can help close the gap in achieving their targets.

48 of the 70 countries (69%) refer to ecosystem degradation through deforestation and the benefits protecting forests provide to water security, however only 8 (12%) mention the UN REDD Programme and 7 (10%) mention the Convention on Biological Diversity. International commitments to combat deforestation and conserve biodiversity are important for countries to link to in their national water policy because they present opportunity for greater alignment with their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs).

Water injustice disproportionately impacts marginalized individuals andcommunities, including the world’s 370-500 million Indigenous Peoples(UNESCO, 2019).6 of the 70 countries(8.5%)refer to Indigenous Peoples by discussing their vulnerability to water security issues and the practice of subsistence farming. However, only 1 country's water policy mentions valuing traditional practices.

20 of the 70 countries (28.5%) discuss climate resilience as a priority area in their national water policy.The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030and the2030 Agenda for Sustainable Developmentcall for urgent action to combat climate change. Climate resilient water management and resilientNBS can provide an integrated approach and strengthen alignment across global commitments and frameworks.

Viet Nam: Wetlands“Maintaining wetlands in their natural state as is being done by the Phu My project will increase the resilience of local communities facing the impacts of climate change.”In the Mekong Delta of Viet Nam, the Phu My Lepironia Wetland Conservation Project established a 2,890-hectare protected area to protect wetlands as natural infrastructure for water security. By holding and filtering freshwater, the protected wetland has become a nature-based solution to provide drinking water for the local community.Learn more about nature-based solutions for water implemented by the Phu My Lepironia Wetland Conservation Project, recipient of the 2006 UNDP Equator Prize,here.

Ecuador: Grasslands"This grassland ecosystem has the greatest hydrological and soil carbon sequestration potential in Ecuador.”In the Guargualla River watershed of the Ecuadorian Andes, protecting 8,000 hectares of montane grasslands has become a powerful nature-based solution both for water security and the co-benefit of carbon sequestration. By protecting source watersheds through Indigenous watershed management, water flows have been improved for 6,800 households in the area, while access to water for personal and irrigation use has also improved at lower altitudes. This nature-based solution for water security boasts significant climate mitigation co-benefits, as intact grasslands serve as carbon sinks by sequestering CO2.Learn more about nature-based solutions for water implemented by the Autonomous Workers’ Association of San Rafael, Tres Cruces, and Yurac, recipient of the 2004 UNDP Equator Prize, here.

Madagascar: Forest“The main environmental benefit which has been improved over time is the communities’ access to water for irrigation and drinking.”In Madagascar’s Manambolo Valley, protecting 1,000 hectares of upstream forest improved water security for approximately 200,0000 residents spanning five districts. By returning the forest to local control using traditional management systems, slash-and-burn practices were reversed, and the forest was again viewed as natural infrastructure to protect source water. Ultimately, downstream access to water for both irrigation and personal use increased. This nature-based solution for water security boasts significant climate mitigation co-benefits, as intact forests serve as carbon sinks by sequestering CO2.Learn more about nature-based solutions for water implemented by the Association of Manambolo Natives, recipient of the 2002 UNDP Equator Prize, here.

Indonesia: Forest“Our village is still surrounded by forest. We live in a longhouse next to the Utik River. In our language, the word ‘Utik’ means clear or pure, referring to the crystal-clear water in our river. Our river is clear because we live by our customary knowledge of nature. We have protected our land from deforestation for hundreds of years.” -Kynan Tegar, Sungai Utik community memberIn Indonesian Borneo, the Sungai Utik Indigenous community uses traditional knowledge to sustainably manage a 10,087-hectare customary forest. Preserving the forest as natural infrastructure for water, this nature-based solution has enabled the community’s long-term water security, including year-round access to naturally filtered clean water for drinking. Considering themselves forest guardians, the Sungai Utik people reserve 6,000 hectares—approximately 60% of the total customary forest—as protected forest, while sustainably managing the rest for food cultivation and other uses. This nature-based solution for water security also boasts significant climate mitigation co-benefits, as intact forests serve as carbon sinks by sequestering CO2. While simultaneously protecting source water, this forest also sequesters an estimated 1.31 million metric tonnes of carbon.Learn more about nature-based solutions for water implemented by the Indigenous Group of Dayak Iban Sungai Utik Longhouse, recipient of the 2019 UNDP Equator Prize, here.

Mexico: Mangrove ForestMangrove forests are NBS with climate adaptation co-benefits as they increase resilience to intensifying coastal flooding. The San Crisanto Ejido, a small Mayan fishing village on Mexico’s Yucatán coast, turned to nature-based solutions to provide protection from climate-intensifying flooding. By restoring and protecting 850 hectares of mangroves, natural infrastructure buffers against floods, increasing both water security and climate resilience.Learn more about the nature-based solutions for water implemented by the San Crisanto Foundation, recipient of the 2010 UNDP Equator Prize,here.

Payment for environmental services (PES) programs present a strong financial mechanism to encourage implementation of nature-based solutions. Yet, only 7 of the 70 countries (10%) discuss the establishment of PES programs in their water policies.

Today, about half of the world’s population lives where water scarcity may occur during one or more month(s) each year (UN WWAP, 2018). Natural ecosystems provide natural infrastructure to support water security by naturally storing and filtering water, and by providing protection from climate-intensifying water disasters, including floods and droughts.

Financing NBS for WaterCost-benefit analyses have illustrated NBS for water can be cost effective. However, NBS for water continues to be significantly underfunded.The 2018 World Water Development Report revealed that NBS for water security globally represents less than 1% of water infrastructure investments. A stronger business case for water is needed. Today’s decision-makers are in a prime position to mobilize due to the current inertia of promoting NBS for sustainable development, specifically through carbon sequestration in ecosystems that concurrently provide water security through NBS. The COVID-19 pandemic has also created an urgent need for strategies for a green economic recovery, presenting an opportunity for governments to adopt NBS for water.Take New York City's celebrated Watershed Program for example, instead of investing $8-10 billion in grey infrastructure the city invested in the conservation of three upstream watersheds—the Catskill, Delaware, and Croton. This payment for environmental services (PES) scheme both conserved upstream forests and “sav[ed] the city more than US$300 million a year on water treatment operation and maintenance (O&M) costs” (Abell et al., 2017, p. 56).Learn more at:Nature for Life Hub: Nature for Water2020 World Water Week: Water and Climate - The Business Case For Financing Nature2018 World Water Development Report: Nature-based SolutionsNature Positive RecoveryBeyond the source: The environmental, economic and community benefits of source water protectionNature for Water, Nature for Water - Nature-based solutions for achieving the Global GoalWater Climate Report:Stop Floating, Start Swimming

While these plans provide valuable insight, NBS for water also exist at the transboundary, subnational, and/or regional level. The scope of this analysis is on national water-management policies. A more detailed report on those findings is forthcoming.

Information for this infographic was drawn from the following resources:Abell, R., Asquith, N., Boccaletti, G., Bremer, L., Chapin, E., Erickson-Quiroz, A. Wood, S. (2017). Beyond the source: The environmental, economic and community benefits of source water protection. Arlington, VA: The Nature Conservancy. Availablehere.United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2019). Indigenous peoples. Availablehere.World Economic Forum Water Initiative. (2011). Water security: The water-food-energy-climate nexus. Washington, DC: Island Press. WWAP (United Nations World Water Assessment Programme). (2018). The United Nations World Water Development Report 2018: Nature-based Solutions. Paris, UNESCO. Availablehere.WWAP (United Nations World Water Assessment Programme). (2016). The United Nations World Water Development Report 2016: Water and Jobs. Paris, UNESCO. Availablehere.WWAP (United Nations World Water Assessment Programme). (2015). The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015: Water for a Sustainable World. Paris, UNESCO.Availablehere.Water & Climate: The Business Case for Financing Nature. (2020, August 26).Availablehere.