Study shows how forests are essential to ensure our well-being and health

05 julho 2022

Document points out the importance of natural ecosystems for the people in general

By WWF-Brazil

Deforestation, wildfires, air pollution, changing temperatures and new diseases resulting from changes in ecosystems have affected the health and well-being of people in general. “What forests and deforestation have to do with our health” is the theme of the technical note that WWF-Brazil is releasing this week and which shows this close relationship.

The document points out the importance of the forest and other natural ecosystems for human well-being and the problems that their destruction causes for those who live in these environments and even far away from them.

The study shows that the air in the Amazon rainforest is very clean, especially in the rainy season, when rainfall removes aerosols from the atmosphere. However, this characteristic changes with the forest fires: the smoke from the fires in the Amazon is highly toxic, causing shortness of breath, coughing and lung damage to the population, and they account for 80% of the regional increase in fine particle pollution, affecting 24 million people living in the region.

Another data presented is that during the “burning season” in the Brazilian Amazon (between July and October), about 120,000 people are admitted to hospitals every year due to asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. During periods of intense fires, particularly in extreme drought events, pollutants from biomass burning can increase cardiorespiratory mortality rates as well as induce genetic damage that contributes to the development of lung cancer.

In addition to diseases caused by fire, deforestation can increase the transmission of infectious diseases and even the emergence of new diseases. A 10% increase in deforestation leads to a 3.3% increase in the incidence of malaria, for example. Research in the Peruvian Amazon has shown the existence of higher numbers of larvae in pools of warm water partially sheltered from the sun, such as those that form on the edge of roads opened within the forest, and in water accumulated in the midst of debris, which is not consumed by the trees.

During the last century, on average, two new viruses per year have spread from animal hosts to human populations - this is the case for Ebola, MERS, SARS and Zika. The risk of the emergence of new zoonoses in tropical forests is higher, because of their great diversity of rodents, primates and bats, but also because of the high rates of deforestation and degradation that lead to the fragmentation of habitats, and the proximity of populations, which are attracted by the agricultural expansion.

The current Covid-19 pandemic is likely a result of human pressure on natural ecosystems. At the time of publication of the study, more than 6 million deaths from Covid-19 had been recorded worldwide. The technical note also points out that forest fires in the Amazon may have increased the risk of infection by the virus due to the persistent inflammatory response they cause, further worsening the health situation of the population of this biome.

For Mariana Napolitano, science manager at WWF-Brazil, it is undeniable that forests are a source of benefits for human beings, and their degradation and suppression can pose serious risks to human health. “Brazil is among the champions of deforestation. These losses directly impact the climate and favour the emergence of new zoonoses from environmental imbalance. Taking care of the planet is effectively taking care of health”
Nature and well-being

Another information presented by the document is that the natural environment affects individual and collective well-being. There is a lot of evidence that highlights the importance of nature to promote an improvement in mood and well-being. The experience in nature is associated with an improvement in several health indicators, such as a decrease in blood pressure, a reduction in hormones associated with stress, an improvement in heart rate, mood, cognitive function, among other aspects.

The dynamics of livestock-agriculture expansion is considered the main cause of deforestation and carbon emissions in Brazil. In the Amazon, between 2000 and 2020, more than 40 million hectares of forests were converted into pastures. Unlike agricultural commodity monocultures produced in these deforested areas, extractivism and agroforestry systems protect agrobiodiversity, sustain human livelihoods, food security and sovereignty, and protect important ecosystem services such as soil and water conservation.

The survey points out that some actions can help maintain the ecosystem services of forests and avoid the risks of their destruction. Among them are the conservation of forests, better management of the landscape in areas of agricultural activities, the restoration of deforested or degraded forests, including those close to urban centres.

Agroforestry systems are pointed out as one of the solutions for sustainable production. The survey highlights positive aspects of Amazonian agricultural systems: they are highly sophisticated and include a multiplicity of cultivated plants, complex landscape management, articulation with other subsistence activities (hunting, fishing, extractivism) and diverse management strategies and practices that reflect at least 12,000 years of interaction with plants and landscapes by indigenous peoples and traditional communities.

About the technical note: the bibliographic survey had financial support from Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, on behalf of the German federal government, with writing by the Environmental Contents Nucleus - NUCA (Maura Campanili), under the coordination of WWF-Brazil ( Mariana Napolitano Ferreira and Daniel E Silva), based on the technical report by Prof. Marcos Heil Costa (Federal University of Viçosa).

About WWF-Brazil

WWF-Brazil is a Brazilian NGO that for 25 years has been working collectively with partners from civil society, universities, governments and companies across the country to combat socio-environmental degradation and defend the lives of people and nature. We are connected in an interdependent network that seeks urgent solutions to the climate emergency. Donate.