International Day of Forests The theme for 2023 is ‘’Forests and health’’
Mrs Dalila HICHERI
Engineer in Rural Engineering, Water and Forests
On this International Day of Forests, even though the world is still hit hard by the pandemics, several actors think of the human health – forests duo, hence this year's International Day of Forests theme "Forests and health". On this occasion, the Sahara and Sahel Observatory (OSS) takes the path of the jungle and the forest to remind that these ecosystems are one of the pillars of our existence and our well-being.
Forests have so much to give to our health. First, thanks to the oxygen they produce, the lungs of the Earth allow us to breathe and act as natural carbon sinks, which means they improve the quality of the air we inhale. They purify our water, protect our soil and provide us with vital food and medicine. They preserve the ecosystems and provide a great deal of ecosystem products and services, including the firewood we use for cooking. In addition to the beneficial effects they have on human mental health (many people have a profound spiritual relationship with forests), they play an important socio-economic role in supporting the livelihoods of local communities by providing income generating activities to some 2.5 billion people worldwide.
However, poorly managed forests can put our health at risks. Malaria, the African trypanosomiasis, the Lyme disease, HIV and Ebola virus are some of the diseases associated with forests. Other less-known infective agents linked to forests are constantly identified, and most new infectious diseases are related to habitat loss due to changes in forest areas and expansion of the populations on the cost of forests.
But, forest health can be particularly fragile. Facing the challenges of deforestation, pollution, diseases, invasive species and even fires, forests are increasingly degraded and threatened, just like the plants and animals they home. 178 million hectares of forest which is roughly the area of Libya have been lost since 1990, this is one of the many frightening figures relating to forests. With 3.9 million hectares of forest loss, Africa, home to the Congo Basin forest, the world's second-largest primary tropical forest, shows the highest net annual rate of forest loss in 2010–2020. Today, global warming adds to the difficulties ahead of forests and therefore hinders their health, vitality and sustainability.
The clock is ticking, we must act now to preserve our forests and, therefore, our health. Intensive forest management contributes to maintaining human health, by reducing the risk of future pandemics, maintaining food security, eliminating poverty, preserving global biodiversity and hope for a better world. Today, conservationists are on the search for more inclusive policies for the exploitation of forests. They seek the expertise of local communities and indigenous peoples who can help protect them, not to mention the support of political decision-makers, who can be a source of inspiration and assistance in the development of policies and programs for the conservation of the forests anywhere in this world. But above all, we do have the key to safeguard these precious ecosystems and, moreover, to preserve our health.
« If one day the forests came to disappear, man would only have his family tree to mourn. » [Albert Einstein]