Forests are vital. We have long known their importance to the health of our planet, but do they also matter to human health?
In the new WWF Forest vitality report, researchers and forestry specialists have brought together existing evidence from several disciplines to demonstrate the essential relationships between forests and the health and well-being of people.
“We simply cannot afford to treat climate, human health and biodiversity impacts as separate problems requiring separate solutions,” says report co-author and WWF-US Forestry Director Annika Terrana. “As society absorbs the costs of climate change and biodiversity loss, which may seem distant, global issues for some will become increasingly personal and immediate in how they affect our health.”
Ignoring the links between forests and human health can have disastrous effects, including disease outbreaks. Here’s a look at how it happens: we clear the forest and wildlife concentrates in less space, where species are more likely to exchange pathogens with each other. Overcrowding also leads to stress, making them more likely to spread viruses. Loss of forest cover means greater exposure of wildlife to humans or their pets and, therefore, increased risks of disease spreading from wildlife to humans.
The report shows that thriving forests contribute to human health. Forests provide nutrient-rich food to communities bordering forests; they can help protect people against natural hazards such as floods and extreme heat; and they provide livelihoods for around 1.6 billion people around the world.
Craig Beatty, director of forest research and strategy at WWF and lead author of the report, says: “We know we need forests to fight climate change and prevent wildlife extinctions. This report explains how forests are linked to Human health; it gives us a roadmap for understanding forests and public health together.
Want to help protect forests? Encourage your representatives to support the FOREST law and to stop illegal deforestation.