On March 22, Guyana will join the rest of the world in observing the International Day of Forests, under the theme “Forests and Health”. The intention of this international observance is to raise awareness on the importance of all types of forests, and to promote solutions for issues related to the management of forests.
The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Forests provide, directly or indirectly, important health benefits for all people – not only those whose lives are closely intertwined with forest ecosystems, but also people far from forests, including urban populations – from the provision of food, medicinal plants, and clean water, to protection from the elements (high winds and waves), and naturally cooling urban spaces. Numerous studies have shown that contact with nature has a positive influence on our mental and physical well-being; spending time around trees helps to boost our immune system, lowers blood pressure, and promotes relaxation.
Forests filter water and air
By filtering pollutants from air and water, forests help reduce the threats of pollution-related infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases, including diarrhoeal diseases, cancers, and respiratory diseases. Research demonstrates that upstream tree cover is associated with a lower prevalence of diarrhoeal diseases (linked to water pollution) in children downstream. A 30% increase in upstream tree cover is linked to a 4% reduction in the probability of diarrhoeal diseases — similar to the effects of an improved sanitation facility.
Forests provide us medicines
Many of the medicines we rely on today come from forests. 25% of medicinal drugs used in developed countries are plant-based, while in developing countries, it can be as much as 80%. Forests also provide essential health products, such as hygiene and sanitary items like toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, and ethanol for sanitizers.
The masks and protective clothing that frontline medical workers depend on are created from forest products like wood pulp and soluble cellulose fibre.
Forests shield us against future pandemics
Currently, 60% of all infectious diseases and 75% of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. These diseases originate from the transfer of pathogens from animals to humans, and they usually occur when natural landscapes, such are forests, are being cleared.
Forests are also good for our mental health
There is scientific evidence that shows that exposure to forests can actually reduce human stress levels, lower blood pressure, boost our immune system, help us recover from attentional fatigue, and generally improve overall mood. Spending time in green spaces has also been thought to mitigate the effects of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Forests Facts – Guyana
– Guyana’s rainforests cover approximately 85% of the country’s land mass. Approximately 20% of the world’s remaining tropical forests are found in countries like Guyana, which have high forest cover and very low deforestation rates. In fact, this high forest cover ranks Guyana among the top 10 countries globally.
– Forests in Guyana can be classified as rainforests (36%), montane forests (35%), swamp and marsh (15%), dry evergreen (7%), seasonal forest (6%), and mangrove forest (1%).
– The biodiversity of Guyana’s rainforests is rich, and our forests are home to a large number of endemic species (plants and animals that are found only in Guyana) and ‘giants of the Amazon’ such as the giant river otter and the jaguar. The forests are also home to our Indigenous People.
– Guyana’s plan to preserve its forests, both mangroves and rainforests, can be found in the Low Carbon Development Strategy 2030. This document sets out Guyana’s plan to forge a low-carbon economy which ultimately seeks to lessen the impacts of climate change, given the country’s vast forest cover and extremely low deforestation rate.
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