Forests as a means to improve welfare
The aging of the population is progressing rapidly. With advancements in medical technology and various food and nutrition industries, the average life expectancy is increasing fast. According to the National Statistical Office, the senior population over age 65 will grow from 6.65 million (12.9 percent) in 2015 to 12.81 million (24.3 percent) in 2030. At this rate, the National Health Insurance Service predicts that medical expenses for the elderly will grow from 18 trillion won ($15.5 billion), or 37.9 percent of total health insurance expenses in 2015, to 64 trillion won, or 65.5 percent, by 2030.
At this juncture, forestry welfare is emerging as an alternative to secure fiscal stability while improving public health in the aging society.
The Korea Forest Research Institute under the Korea Forest Service started a forest therapy program to track changes in human bodies, and the study confirmed improved immunity and decrease in stress. A study by Chungbuk National University’s LINC project showed that forest therapy and other activities can cut medical costs by 2.8 trillion won a year.
Germany has been utilizing forests as a means of improving health and preventing disease since the mid-1800’s. Japan has also been promoting forest therapy as a national project since the 2000’s.
In 2014, about 20 million Koreans visited recreational forests or forest therapy spots. In response to the growing forest welfare demand, the law on forest welfare promotion was enacted in March. With the legislation, a system has been established for the effective implementation of expanding forest welfare facilities, forest welfare service for life cycles, related research and job creation and assistance for the underprivileged.
Considering the welfare expenses to GDP ratio, which is close to the OECD average, the forests, which make up 64 percent of Korea’s land, would be a blessed natural resource to contribute to the fiscal stability of the country. To establish forest welfare soon and actively and productively provide welfare services, an organization and manpower to efficiently and economically provide and manage forest welfare should be created.
by Lee Hae-young, Professor of public administration at Yeungnam University