Ok, you may have already had the intuitive notion that the forests of the world benefit human health, that we rely on them even. However, a recent World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report makes the connection a little more clear and precise.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 23-25% of global disease burden could be alleviated from improved management of environmental conditions. Preserving our forests is a major part of this.
“Deforestation is a double blow to human health,” says Chris Elliot, WWF’s Executive Director of Conservation. “It increases the spread of certain diseases while destroying plants and animals that may hold the key to treating illnesses that plague millions of people.”
The WWF report, Vital Sites: The Contribution of Protected Areas to Human Health, shows that 422 new plant species have been discovered in Borneo in the last 25 years and in these forests alone, in the past 10 years, tress and shrubs that may be used to treat cancer, HIV and malaria have been discovered. Unfortunately, deforestation puts these (as well as others that have not yet been discovered) at risk.
For many people, protecting plants, animals and ecosystems from extinction is something worth doing for their own sake. But, for many more people who do not care so much about these species, they should at least care that these plants, animals and ecosystems may be critical to their own health, well-being and ability to keep living at some point in time. You and I, as well as anybody else, might one day get cancer and need medicine originating from one of these fast-disappearing forests.
By the year 2000, over $30 billion per year were estimated to be coming in from plant-based pharmaceuticals.
“When WWF stresses the importance of biodiversity, it’s not just because we enjoy a variety of trees or frogs in a forest. It’s because the science tells us that those trees and frogs are vital to the forest’s health, and the forest’s health is vital to our health,” says Elliot.
“Most people think of protected areas like national parks and nature reserves as tools for wildlife conservation, but by protecting whole habitats and ecosystems the world’s protected areas offer us some very practical social benefits as well,” writes Dr. Kathy MacKinnon, lead biodiversity specialist for the World Bank, in the report’s foreword.
For the environment, for human health (and maybe even your own), help to protect and conserve fast-disappearing forests of the world.