Today is the International Day of Forests 2016 and a good time to take note of the importance of forested land (the ‘lungs of the planet’) that covers almost one third of land area of our planet. In our projects and many others, a strong focus is put on the role of forests as a form of carbon storage to counter the increasing anthropogenic carbon emissions, however forest ecosystems provide a variety of other ‘services’ that often go unobserved or unaccounted for.
It is estimated that forests are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. As well as being important themselves in creating biologically diverse plant ecosystems, they provide a vital habitat to a vast array of animals, many of which are not yet known to science. For humans, this can provide food, medicinal resources and raw wood/plant products for fuel and building materials. Additionally, grazing occurs within forests and local populations often grow rotational crops on temporary plots of land with the forest providing cover and protection.
Forests also play a key role in the hydrological cycle. By stabilising the soil with root structures, slowing the percolation and reducing the total water flow, forests lessen the impact of flooding and erosion, benefitting people far beyond the forest margins. This process greatly increases the water purity through filtration and preserves soil quality across the landscape; improving crop yields and the health of populations that rely on surface water for drinking and washing.
One ‘service’ that is often less considered is the cultural importance. Forests often come to define landscapes and, though it may contribute to the tourism industry, the aesthetics and beauty that they offer is something that cannot be quantified. Places where nature is untainted often carries a spiritual importance, not least for indigenous populations, therefore any destruction of these areas undermines this historical knowledge.
The benefits that humans derive from forests should not be understated; as well as providing a home to hundreds of millions of people, almost a quarter of the global population depend on forests for their livelihood. When considering the vast array of ‘ecosystem services’ that forests provide for humans, the number is probably far greater than that. Every year an area of forest the size of England is lost but, more and more, these benefits are being recognised and celebrated. Today in particular we can try to raise this awareness and encourage the sustainable use of these resources so that they might provide the same benefits to future generations.
Today in Kenya many people are complaining of increased temperatures. In Nairobi it’s hot especially at night. I wonder what the people at the Coast and the Northern part of the country are feeling. This is totally unusual! Media coverage both print and electronic for the last weeks have highlighted cases of people suffering as a result of the increased temperatures. Those in the Metrological department say that at the moment Kenya is experiencing one of the highest temperatures in history. Experts further have predicted that weather for rest of the year is going to be equally hot. This is worrying considering the effects as of now.
Doctors have indicated their fears noting that the old, children and people with chronic diseases are likely to suffer most during this period as they struggle to cope with the harsh weather. Many families especially with young children have been appearing on different TV stations sharing their fears; children are getting sickly with the expensive medical services services.
It’s apparent that these rising temperatures are driven by global warming combined with natural variability leading to a greater chance of extreme weather events. The same doctors have offered tips to the members of the public on how to cope with the harsh weather including people not going outside between 11 am – 3pm. But I wonder how we can drive the economy ahead when we stay indoors, how can we put food on the table while locking ourselves indoors; climate change seems to be slowly but steadily enslaving us. The metrological department of Kenya director was last week quoted saying that “… the current situation shows how global warming can combine with smaller, natural fluctuations to push our climate to levels of warmth which are unprecedented in the data records,”
It was sad watching news last evening on TV and seeing an old helpless woman note that for her she doesn’t know what climate change is but she is aware of the weather changes taking place. She noted that the seasons are gone and life is becoming harder by day, they can no longer depend on the unpredictable rains for farming and that is totally impoverishing them as they depend on farming for survival.
From all these it’s clear that something must be done soon to manage the effects of climate change. The impacts of a warming world are already being felt by people around the globe. If climate change continues unchecked, these impacts are almost certain to get worse. From sea level rise to heat waves, from extreme weather to disease outbreaks, each unique challenge requires locally-suitable solutions to prepare for and respond to the impacts of global warming. Unfortunately, those who will be hit hardest and first by the impacts of a changing climate are likely to be the poor and vulnerable, especially those in the least developed countries as the case is now in Kenya. To move forward developed countries must take leadership in providing financial and technical help for adaptation.