Forests and Sustainable Cities

March 21, 2018

Today is International Day of Forests 

Forests cover one third of the Earth's land mass and are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land that are a home to more than 80% of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. Around 1.6 billion people including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures depend on forests for their livelihoods, medicines, fuel, food and shelter.

Forests play a vital role in balancing the human life and the environmental cycle by regulating the water cycle, providing habitat for animals, providing oxygen, utilizing harmful Carbon-di-oxide, regulating environmental temperature, preventing soil erosion and many more. Most of the population in the world live and work in urban areas where the urban forests and trees play a vital role from filtering the air from harmful pollutants to reducing noise pollution.

Despite all of these priceless ecological, economic, social and health benefits, global deforestation continues at an alarming rate (According to the resources it has been noted that there is an annual loss of around 13 million hectares or 32 million acres of the forests by the people). Deforestation is the removal of forests on a largescale by cutting down trees or burning of forests for fulfilling the increasing human needs. Deforestation is carried out for many purposes like building houses/flats, furniture, paper production, firewood, industrialization and so on. The affect is worsened when we don’t mitigate the impact of deforestation by abundant afforestation measures (not to forget that it takes years to become a forest again). The Earth was full of forests in the last century, however, currently around 80% of the forests have been cut and even rain forests have disappeared permanently.

In this modern world of growing global population, increasing human demands for forest products have led to excessive deforestation which has in turn led to increasing air pollution with increased poisonous gases in the environment, permanent extinction of several unique plant and animal species, a decreasing level of fresh oxygen and increased carbon dioxide gas, soil erosion, floods and many more. Deforestation accounts for 12-20% of the global greenhouse gas emissions which are directly responsible for global warming and climate change. All the negative effects of deforestation cause many health disorders and most importantly lungs and respiratory problems. By cutting forests we are stopping all the positive impacts that forests provide in the favour of humans and the environment.

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 21 as the International Day of Forests in 2012 and since then this global event is celebrated to raise awareness on the importance of forests and their preservation for the benefit of the current and future generations. All the member states are encouraged to organize activities such as tree-planting, community-level events and national celebrations including art, photo and film as well as social media outreach. Thus this celebration provides a big opportunity to all people to learn more about their contributions in maintaining the ecological balance and encourage sustainable development especially in cities. People share their views and ideas by working together to incorporate the forests into future climate change strategies.

The theme for 2018 is Forests and Sustainable Cities which highlights the following wealth of benefits forests provide in cities,

* Forests and trees store carbon, which helps mitigate the impacts of climate change in and around urban areas.

* Trees also improve the local climate, helping save energy used for heating by 20-50 percent.

* Strategic placement of trees in urban areas can cool the air by up to 8 degrees Celsius, reducing air conditioning needs by 30 percent.

* Urban trees are excellent air filters, removing harmful pollutants in the air and fine particulates.

* Trees reduce noise pollution, as they shield homes from nearby roads and industrial areas.

* Forests also protect watersheds and prevent flooding as they store water in their branches and soil.

* Well-managed forests and trees in and around cities provide habitats, food and protection for many species of plants and animals thus helping to maintain and increase biodiversity.

* Forests in cities and surrounding areas generate tourism, create tens of thousands of jobs and help city beautification schemes, building dynamic, energetic and prosperous green economies.

* Urban green spaces, including forests, encourage active and healthy lifestyles, improve mental health, prevent disease, and provide a place for people to socialize.

Just imagine our planet without plants and forests; life would not be possible as they are the main source of rain (Water for all our needs), fresh air, as a source of medicine, animal habitat, shade, wood, etc. If we continue to increasingly cut plants/trees/forests, it would disturb all the cycles and in turn bring deteriorating affects to human life which means no fresh air, no animals, no shade, no wood and medicine. Everywhere there would be only increased heat, drought, flood, storm, carbon dioxide gas, methane and other poisonous gases that will make life on earth miserable for the future generation.

Some of the ways we can contribute to prevent deforestation is to initiate regulated and planned cutting of trees along with abundant plantation of native species wherever possible with proper care during initial growth. Avoid/minimize wherever possible the unnecessary use of paper, facial tissues etc. and think about reuse and recycle options of papers to lessen the need to cut more trees. Saving forests and nurturing plants by each one of us can go a long way to maintain the natural cycles of the environment and to make our cities greener, healthier and happier places to live for us and our generations to come!


By Sharon D'Souza
Sharon D'Souza from Mangaluru is presently working as an Environment Engineer (HSE) at PMU, Sustainable Coastal Protection and Management Investment Programme (SCPMIP), department of ports and inland water transport, Government of Karnataka. She has completed MTech in Environmental Engineering from MIT, Manipal. She is passionate about creating awareness on environmental issues and how each one of us could help reduce environmental impact at an individual level.
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Comment on this article

  • Ivar, Mangalore

    Thu, Mar 22 2018

    The human population is expanding everyday. We can not accommodate more families inside our houses. So to dwell, we have to encroach forests, there is no other way.

    So, instead of trying to reduce inevitable deforestation, we need to find ways to increase vegetation in and around the places we live. Let us promote planting a few trees around our houses, terrace gardens etc. Or let us build some artificial islands or land extensions into the sea like Dubai did!

  • Joe britto, Nakre/Bangalore

    Wed, Mar 21 2018

    Thanks for a most interesting Article Sharon.

    Approx 20 % of the area is under Forest cover in the Country.The methodology itself that is used to collect data by Satellite Image is flawed as lands units of less than 4 sq kms were overlooked.

    Whilst Forest Cover is removed in the name of Development, we find that Afforestation is done for the same or more area. BUT whilst tropical evergreen Forests are removed either for Agricultural Expansion or Development, the Actual replanting that is done does not really match with the lost Evergreen cover.

    In our own Western Ghats 35% of the Forest cover has been lost over the past century and the Districts of Shivamoga & Kodagu have shown a loss of 189 Sq Km of forest cover. Similarly the poss in Chickamagalur & D. Kannada is much more and the data available does not seem to be matching the ground reality . Whatever there is no doubt that atleast 50 % of Real Forests area has been lost over the years .

    The needs of the hour is protect the remaining area and also increase Urban greening with Terrace Gardens & Vertical Gardens which are becoming popular .

  • santosh, mangalore

    Wed, Mar 21 2018

    Received a wonderful message today. To keep seeds of fruits and vegetables eaten at home and disperse them during the rainy season along the barren lands while travelling. Success rate is not 100% guaranteed but worth a try in order to increase the green cover in our land.

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