Today is International Day of Forests, and the theme for this year’s observance is ‘Forests and Health’.
The United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed March 21 the International Day of Forests in 2012 to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests.
As the UN website explains, the organisers of International Day of Forests are the UN Forum on Forests and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in collaboration with governments, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests and other relevant organisations in the field.
Elaborating on the theme, the UN website states, “Forests give us so much to our health.
They purify the water, clean the air, capture carbon to fight climate change, provide food and life-saving medicines, and improve our well-being. It’s up to us to safeguard these precious natural resources. This 2023 calls for giving, not just taking, because healthy forests will bring healthy people.”
In conjunction with International Day of Forests 2023, the Forestry Department of the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism of Brunei Darussalam issued a statement.
“Forests are well known for their contributions in supporting our socio-economic livelihood, such as the source of our food and timbers from trees for building construction and furniture making,” the department said, noting that forests are home to a wide range of flora and fauna, including threatened and endangered species.
The department shared that these provisions are known as ‘forest ecosystem services’, the numerous goods and services that are benefited from forests.
“Forests absorb carbon dioxide and store them in their leaves, roots, wood and soil and produce oxygen for us to breathe. They are also important in maintaining the natural water cycle by absorbing water from the soil through their roots and releasing them back to the atmosphere. They also protect and stabilise the soil from erosion that may lead to other negative environmental impacts such as sedimentation, flash flood and landslides. Additionally, they naturally maintain and aid in soil fertility through nutrient-cycling.”
With regards to the occasion’s 2023 theme, the department said, “This year’s theme calls for us to take good care of our forests recognising that healthy forests positively impact our health.
“Forests are known to be the source of nutritious food such as fruits, nuts and vegetables that are safer to consume for a healthy diet. With the advancement of scientific research and technologies, most of our modern medicines are known to be derived from the forests.
Forests can be a good venue for us to enjoy outdoor recreational activities. They are also ideal for healing and relaxing the mind after long day of work. Enjoying nature by simply walking along forest trails can have positive psychological impact to our mental and physical health.
“The quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink are dependent on the health of the forests. These two things are essential for our survival and of course our health.”
The statement proceeds to note that forests are known to aid in the prevention of the spread of diseases such as those from wild animals by acting as a natural buffer.
“With all of these in mind, it is undeniably true that our forests are important not just for our existence, but also for our health and well-being. In order for us to continuously receive such important provisions and services from the forests, their health must be taken care. Thus, it is our shared responsibility to protect and sustainably manage them for the sake of our present and future generations,” added the department.
Director of Forestry Noralinda binti Haji Ibrahim also issued a statement in conjunction with the occasion, where she highlighted how spending time in the forest can boost one’s well-being.
“We have been living in societies characterised by urbanisation,” she said. “As we pursue aggressive economic activities, our daily lives have been occupied by meeting targets, sustaining operations, planning strategies, and all the necessary preparations to ensure our future as we move forward in life.
“As a result, there has been an increase in pressure to work long hours, get good grades in education, and be successful in life. In common language, people call this awkward feeling ‘stress’.”
Noralinda underlined that stress and stress-related diseases have become a burden to modern society and attention is turning to the forests and the natural world to offer a solution. She added that numerous documentaries have recommended that nature therapy is a significant approach to lower stress levels and improve the quality of life.
“Urbanisation is not inherently bad for us; however, our physiological functions are still adapted to nature. We need nature to regulate and feel more comfortable, thereby minimises the stress levels and our state of over-stimulation.”
Touching on International Day of Forests, she noted that the theme of this year’s celebration recognises that healthy forests will bring healthy people. “This is very timely as we aggressively implement our economic agenda in view of the ending of the pandemic era.”
She shared that the occasion emphasises the ever-growing interest in health and wellbeing around the world. “It is also highlighted that being healthy no longer means freedom from disease but also a situation that our nature is also healthy and free from threat and potential destruction.”
She also said Brunei Darussalam is blessed as it has intact forest reserves and recreational parks to help restrain the effect of stress brought about by pressures from work, studies, and routinary activities.
“Visiting our forest areas and recreational parks allows us to bathe and reconnect with nature. Forest bathing does not literally mean taking a bath in forest areas, but to expose ourselves in forest atmosphere,” she added.
She noted that this practice was widely and culturally accepted in Japan during the 1980s and has been globally accepted in the form of ecotherapy. “Researchers have proved that forest bathing has physiological benefits and the time spent in immersing with nature is good for us.
“Our forest recreational parks are very much responsive for forest bathing practices,” affirmed the director.
“To sit quietly on a bench watching leaves naturally falling from trees, blooming wildflowers, birds chirping, insects crawling, and even dropping dews from mosses, among others, can make us physiologically relaxed and stable. These are just examples and there are medical experiments observing nature has beneficial effects in heart rate and pulse rate variability. In addition, for a quick moment, we can also reset our minds and focus our attention on nature and how it works.
“Our forest recreational parks are available every day for free. As we celebrate International Day of Forests 2023, everyone is invited to frequently visit our parks and forest bathe with us,” the director added. “As we strengthen our connection with nature, let us promote for their conservation and sustainable management. It is also our responsibility to protect the very ecosystem that naturally protect our well-being.”