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Unveiling the health benefits of forests and trees

On the occasion of Desertification and Drought Day, let us reflect on the intricate connections between forests, human health and well-being, and the escalating challenges posed by desertification and drought.

Forests play a crucial role in preventing and mitigating desertification and drought through their capacity to regulate water availability, conserve soil, regulate microclimates, and support biodiversity. Preserving and restoring forest ecosystems is essential, as it not only helps maintain ecological balance, but is also hugely beneficial to human health.

The report “Forests and Trees for Human Health: Pathways, Impacts, Challenges and Response Options” recently published by the Science-Policy Programme of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), underscores the critical role of forests and trees in achieving the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly Goal 3 (SDG 3) – ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all.

The assessment finds that existing evidence strongly supports a wide range of physical, mental, social and spiritual health benefits associated with forests and green spaces. They have positive effects, e.g., on the neurodevelopment in children, on diabetes, cancer, depression, stress-related disorders, cognitive aging and longevity, and are crucial in enhancing social interactions, recreation and relaxation. Although all life stages are impacted, the benefits on children are particularly significant, starting as early as the prenatal stage.

Forests, trees and green spaces also provide numerous goods and health services, with medicinal plants providing primary healthcare to 70% of the world’s population.

The assessment also finds that disturbed relationships between forests and people, including poor forest conservation and management or specific tree species in populated areas, can have an adverse impact.

Land-use change, for example, is estimated to have caused the emergence of more than 30% of new diseases since 1960. This data highlights how crucial it is to improve the understanding of the role of nature in providing benefits to humans, and consequently, the role that ongoing nature destruction is playing in increasing health hazards.

Moreover, global crises such as climate change, land-use change, and biodiversity loss endanger the important role that forests and trees play for human health, as they are among the drivers behind wildland fires, heavy storms and severe heat.

Find the Report and Policy Brief at:

Download the fact sheet: gfep-Forest-Health-Factsheet.pdf (

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Image by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash.

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