As a natural resource offering health, economic and ecological benefits, communities in both developed and developing countries rely on their essential ecosystem services – clean water, climate regulation and productive soils – as well as the food and fuel they provide. But the world is losing 10 million hectares of forest a year to deforestation – an area about the size of Iceland – and a further 35 million to insect damage.
Such statistics highlight the importance of global initiatives like the United Nations’ International Day of Forests which this year focuses on ‘forests and health’ – a theme which highlights connections between forests and human well-being.
According to the World Bank, forests and trees provide vital resources to 1.3 billion people, a major proportion of which depend on them for:
- food and nutrition such as herbs, nuts, fruits and mushrooms;
- medicines derived from around 50 000 various plant species;
- energy for cooking – charcoal or fuelwood;
- grazing and fodder for livestock;
- mental and physical health – exposure to forests is proven to lower blood pressure and cortisol levels.
In WeForest’s Desa’a project in Ethiopia, people rely on the forest to supply a quarter of their combined cash and non-cash incomes. In Zambia’s Katanino, a survey at the start of our restoration project revealed that, among the people who depended on the forest, about half of their income came from forest-related activities including charcoal production.
Aside from these day-to-day essentials, forests benefit humans in many other ways. As well as providing constant canopy and litter layer protection, an intact forest can in some cases reduce soil erosion and improve water quality. What’s more, healthy forests also improve soil water retention, thereby potentially reducing drought and flooding, which could impact food security and ultimately human well-being.
If we’re to continue benefiting from the nutritional, medicinal and environmental benefits of healthy forests, we need to safeguard them: not only to combat climate change, but to promote healthier lives for our generation and the next.
Download the infographic here.