International Day of Forests 2023
The UN International Day of Forests is an annual celebration of the biodiversity, health benefits and valuable climate role of these priceless ecosystems. Discover the powerful link between forests and world health.
This year, the UN International Day of Forests will be celebrated on March 21. Established in 2012, the day raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests around the world, highlighting their crucial role in health, biodiversity, climate change and wellbeing.
Their direct and indirect benefits for people, whether they live in or around forests or in urban environments are vast, and it’s no understatement to say that their survival will have a huge influence on the future of the planet.
This year, the theme of the day will be ‘Forests and Health’. Defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, health encompasses a wide variety of factors, from nutrition and medicine to fuel and stress reduction – all of which a forest provides in abundance.
The World’s Larder and Doctor
The link between forestry and health is long and powerful. For people living in or around forests, food that comes directly from the forest such as fruits, leaves, nuts, mushrooms and wild meat is a large part of their diet. Since rural populations are often poor and food insecure, this source is not only crucial to prevent nutrient deficiency, but also provides diversity in the diet leading to improved health.
Forests also provide vital medicines for people in remote areas with neither the access or money for pharmaceutical products. The hot and humid conditions in tropical ecosystems produce a diverse range of transmissible diseases, and local populations rely on a vast range of medicinal plants available in the forests to treat these diseases. In fact, WHO estimates that at least 80% of the world’s population depends on traditional medicine to meet their primary health care needs.
Alongside medicine and nutrition, forests are also a reliable and cheap source of fuel for rural communities. Widely used for cooking, processing and preserving food, as well as sterilising water, it plays a vital part in decreasing the occurrence of food- and water-borne diseases. With more than 10% of the global population using wood fuel to sterilize water, losing that source of fuel would be catastrophic for millions of people around the world.
The Urban Oasis
Of course, it’s not just people in poor, rural areas that gain health benefits from forests. Billions of people in urban environments use forests to escape and recover from the stresses of modern life. Whether it’s exercise or recreation, the forest provides a calm space that allows people to reconnect with nature and enables deep thought without constant interruption.
Forests also provide a physical switch from city to country, buffering noise while absorbing pollution from traffic and industry. They also reduce the ‘heat island effect’, which comes from cities and towns having dense concentrations of surfaces that retain rather than reflect heat, such as pavements and buildings. It’s been found that shade provided by urban forests and trees can reduce the urban heat island effect by 4 to 5°C in some settings.1
For the city or town dweller, forests not only reduce stress but actively promote good moods and feelings, alongside a host of other health benefits. Long-term exposure to residential parks, gardens and forests has shown positive effects related to general health, obesity, childhood behavioural development and mortality. Even breathing in the air in forests is believed to strengthen human immune function.
For more information about the 2023 UN International Day of Forests, go to https://www.un.org/en/observances/forests-and-trees-day
1Forests for human health and well-being, FAO, 2020