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Celebrating World Environment Day 2011, ‘Forests: Nature at your Service’

ICIMOD’s celebration of World Environment Day this year focuses on forests, in recognition of the International Year of Forests 2011. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), some 13 million hectares of the world’s forests are lost each year, including 6 million hectares of primary forests, which are considered biologically the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. The International Year of Forests is intended to increase awareness about the importance of forests as an integral part of the sustainable development of the planet and about the economic, socio-cultural, and environmental benefits that forests provide. Deforestation and forest degradation contribute up to one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions, a major cause of global warming.

Andreas Schild

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Forests cover approximately 25% of the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, and as a varied repository of biodiversity and biomass they epitomise multi-functionality. As part of a wider ecosystem, forests deliver a wide range of goods and services including water, food, household energy, timber, biodiversity sustenance (including wildlife) and mineral resources, besides providing opportunities for recreation and spiritual renewal. Thus for the Himalayan populations, forests are a source of livelihood and cultural identity. They have a use for many species, some for food, some for local income generation, some as cultural symbols – so for these people, forest biodiversity matters. Furthermore, the role of forests in adapting to and mitigating the impact of climate change is increasingly being recognised.

Despite the immense environmental and socioeconomic value of the region’s forest ecosystems and the wide range of national policies, climate-related initiatives and development strategies created to conserve them, the region’s forests have become degraded and depleted over the years. Nearly two-thirds of the forest cover in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region is prone to forest fires, largely caused by humans. Only three of the eight countries of the region have reportedly shown forest cover increase in recent years. Vested interests, sociopolitical conflicts, and environmental politics aside, swelling basic human needs, and macro development initiatives are not matched by the sustainable forest management needed to secure and sustain environmental services and goods from forests. Loss of forest cover affects biodiversity, reduces agricultural productivity, and constrains ecosystem services in the region as threats to the sustainable livelihoods of mountain people escalate. To address gaps in knowledge about the drivers of change and to contribute to sustainable forest management as a means of achieving regional environmental stability, ICIMOD with its relevant regional partners is showing its commitment to the objectives of the International Year of Forests 2011 by

As part of this year’s World Environment Day, therefore, ICIMOD has planned several knowledge and advocacy events such as youth debates, street drama, promotion of herbal gardens, an essay competition, exhibitions, and workshops on forest and climate change in the Eastern Himalayas and on the role of forests in the new generation of watershed management. We hope that the day will elevate awareness and consciousness among the public and motivate young people especially to recognise the invaluable goods and services provided by forest ecosystems across the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region and to advocate for securing and sustaining them.

Best wishes to all on this very special day,

Andreas Schild

Director General

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