The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 21 of every year as the International Day of Forests to celebrate forests and raise awareness of the importance of all its types. The observance is organized by the United Nations Forum on Forests and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with Governments, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests and other relevant organizations in the field.
This year, with the theme “Forests and Health,” the FAO highlights the following key messages:
Forests are a vital source of food and nutrition.
Many communities rely on forests as their main source of food. A variety of wild food such as herbs, fruits, nuts, meat and insects are sourced from forests for nutritious diets. In some remote tropical areas, the consumption of wild meat is estimated to cover most of the daily protein needs. Even food in urban areas have ingredients harvested from forests.
Forests are natural pharmacies.
The rich flora in forests is home to thousands of plant species that have medicinal value. To this day, many communities continue the traditional practice of using forest-derived medicine to treat ailments. Even compounds in common pharmaceutical medicines are sourced from forests. Around 25 per cent of medicinal drugs in developed countries are plant-based, while it can reach up to 80 per cent in developing countries.
Healthy forests protect us from diseases.
A number of diseases are carried by wildlife. Because of deforestation, the natural habitats of these creatures are destroyed and they are forced to move to different areas in search for food and shelter. These areas are usually inhabited by humans, thus increasing the risk of diseases spilling over from animals to people. Since 1960, 20 per cent of new diseases are attributed to land-use change, including deforestation.
Forests boost our mental and physical health.
In addition to forests being natural filters that absorb pollutants in the air, studies have shown that spending time in forests can increase positive emotions and decrease blood pressure, depression, fatigue, anxiety and tension.
Forests play a central role in combating the biggest health threat facing humanity: climate change.
In the past two decades, forests have effectively slowed down the speed of climate change by removing an estimated 2 billion metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere every year. Trees in forests also help buffer exposure to heat and extreme weather events caused by climate change, ultimately protecting the world from a global health challenge.
Forests are under threat and need our help.
With approximately 12 million hectares of forests destroyed each year, the need to protect and restore our forests is stronger than ever. This deforestation is responsible for roughly 25 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, declining biodiversity, disaster risks, and more. It’s clear that forests play an important role in in creating a safer, more sustainable world, and it is our responsibility to protect and preserve them.