This article was written by Yewo Jennalah Dewe to commemorate the International Day of Forests. She is a NOREC Exchange Participant (2023) based at Youth Alive! Kenya. She is a youth researcher at the Centre for Youth Empowerment and Civic Education (CYECE, Malawi ) and holds a Bsc in Public Administration (Political Science).
All around the world, climate change is directly and indirectly attributed to human activity. Africa is the most vulnerable continent to climate change impacts under all climate scenarios above 1.5 degrees Celsius. Some sources even go as far as to classifying Africa as “the most vulnerable continent on Earth“. All this is despite having contributed the least to global warming and having the lowest carbon emissions. For instance, in Kenya, climate change has led to more frequent extreme weather events like droughts which last longer than usual, irregular and unpredictable rainfall, flooding and increasing temperatures. This is exacerbated by the infamous issue of deforestation. Deforestation is a huge problem in Kenya like many African countries because many rural people need wood for fire and timber which contributes enormously to drought and soil erosion. Most importantly, deforestation affects the most overlooked and yet important aspect of human life, well-being and health.
The relationship between forests and health is directly spread out among Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1; No Poverty, 2; Zero Hunger, 3; Good Health and Well-being, 13; Climate Action and 15; Life on Land. The question then, would be; what is the role of people in taking care of forests for the good health it gives out? Specifically, in a country with young people as the majority, the main question would be; what is the role of the youth in making sure deforestation does not become the order of the day and substitute it with reforestation and afforestation for good health?
Young people are critical in the future use and management of trees, woodlots, forests and general local greenspaces and their involvement is pivotal. Firstly, young people need to learn the importance of protecting forests and trees . They need to know how they can be engaged. In this case, those with experience can help young people focus their efforts correctly, on things like restoration. They should be taught how they can move from restoration pledges toward restoration action . Secondly, young people should lead tree-planting activities and events, use social media to publicise forest management activities and increase engagement. Most importantly, local forest parks need to reach out and engage young people in these opportunities and make it easy and accessible for them to participate. Furthermore, the youth need a legitimate role in decision-making. The future of forests should be shaped with and by young people as equal citizens. To unlock the benefits for young people, the community and forest management need to be more accessible and inclusive.
It is only after we go above and beyond forest management that we can unlock the health benefits of forests. It is said that `forests give us so much to our health. They purify water, clean the air, capture carbon to fight climate change, provide food and life-saving medicines, and improve our well-being . Basically, Forests play a significant role in both providing health benefits and mitigating negative health impacts’ . However, these health benefits will not be unlocked if young people do not champion the change that is needed. It is against this background that the 2023 International Day of Forests is themed ‘Forests and Health’ to help create a healthy planet with a healthy people. It is Youth Alive! Kenya’s goal to make sure the Kenyan youth remain healthy and alive to push for youth inclusion, engagement and impact in forestry.