Forest disasters and pandemics
The author is a senior forestry officer of the forestry division at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
There have been deadly forest-associated zoonoses over many years, notably: Ebola hemorrhagic fever, HIV and Dengue fever. About 15 percent of pathogens show a direct association with forests. More recently, the emergence of Covid-19 is also assumed to be of zoonotic ori gin.
South Korea is also affected by serious animal disease and zoonosis; some drivers of the spread of recent African swine fever, and avian influenza — a seasonal disease caused by highly pathogenic viruses — are known as wild boars and migrating birds to South Korea from other countries, respectively. Forest conservation including sustainable forest management can help prevent zoonotic disease risk by providing habitats for wildlife and reducing contact between humans and wildlife while maintaining ecosystem balance.
Calamitous wildfires have been on the increase worldwide as climate change influences the length of fire seasons and increases variability in weather patterns. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even though approximately 90 percent of
forest fires are extinguished with existing means and budgets, the remaining 10 percent of forest fires are difficult to control, causing major impacts including damage and loss.
There is growing scientific evidence that managing forests appropriately is an effective way to reduce the impact of natural disasters such as fires and landslides. To cope with pandemics, disasters and climate change, the international community is committed to restoring deforested and degraded land; and has launched the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. The most ambitious effort is the Bonn Challenge to restore 350 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes worldwide by 2030. According to the FAO “Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020,” the world’s forest areas decreased by 178 million hectares from 1990 to 2020; this is 18 times the total area of South Korea. In the context of international cooperation for forest restoration, since 2014, the Korea Forest Service has been a major donor of FAO’s Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism which aims to restore degraded land in more than 20 developing countries.
Recently, Integrated Forest Disaster Risk Management (Ifdrm) has been proposed as an effective measure for preventing disasters. Ifdrm is based on sustainable forest management which maintains ecological integrity, productivity, and biodiversity, and supports climate
change adaptation and mitigation without harming forests’ multiple functions and benefits. South Korea is drawing international attention as a model country that has successfully carried out Ifdrm on forest fires, forest disease and pests, and landslides.
The XV World Forestry Congress, which is the largest international event in the forest sector, will take place on May 2-6, 2022, at Coex, southern Seoul, with the theme “Building a Green, Healthy and Resilient Future with Forests.” FAO, a specialized agency of the United Nations system, is tasked with supporting sustainable management of natural resources and climate change adaptation and mitigation, and has identified that the world can benefit from the momentum generated for forest disaster risk management at the XV World Forestry Congress.
At the Congress, Korea will share its best practices in forest restoration, sustainable forest management, disaster management, and Covid-19 control in the forestry sector. The international community will have an excellent opportunity to receive insights and discuss solutions for the most important issues concerning forests to build back better toward a safer and more resilient world.