OpinionsGender BenderReducing health care costs — with trees

Reducing health care costs — with trees

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The subject of trees keeps coming back in this space as it is important and something everyone can act on. Looking up information in the web in preparation for a tree-planting activity in Amlan last Sunday, I came upon the XXIII IUFRO (International Union of Forest Research Organizations) World Congress with the theme “Forests for the Future” held last August in Seoul. Who knew there were 15,000 scientists, and 700 member organizations in 110 countries working on such issues as tree chemistry, forest genetic resources, forest health and climate change, and 150 related research topics? Comforting information, in these days of threatening environmental disasters, to know so many at work on vitally important matters.

It put me in mind of my days in the international conference circuit, the heady sense of community with the most diverse people pursuing the same goals. Or rather, mostly of like mind, for there were also the activists and lobbyists (on human rights or women’s health or gender-based violence, migration, human trafficking and prostitution) with acutely adversarial positions, and sometimes conference excitement included being nearly killed (along with my group) by a large angry mob in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Digression to comply with editor’s suggestion to get personal…)

But surely tree and forest researchers and scientists are a more peaceful lot, and among the mostly technical Congress themes and research presentations, one stood out that confirms what many of us knew in our hearts: trees make us healthier. How nice to be vindicated amid taunts that tree defenders are foolish and impractical romantics, objecting to widened cemented streets, tree branches lopped off, cemented parking areas, new buildings one next to the other. (DPWH, City Engineering and Noreco take note.) “Preserving green areas and trees in cities is very important to help people recover from stress, maintain health and cure diseases. There is also monetary value in improving people’s working ability and reducing health care costs,” said Dr. Eeva Karjalainen of the Finnish Forest Research Institute, the coordinator on the health benefits of forests and green areas at the World Congress. A green environment can lower blood pressure, boost immunity and disease fighting cells. In another site, mention was made of surgery patients who could see a grove of deciduous trees recuperating faster and requiring less pain-killing medicines than matched patients who viewed only a brick wall. Trees promoting healing! A potential therefore for decreased health care spending.

Worryingly, Dumaguete City has steadily been going in the opposite direction in its pursuit of urban “progress”. Instead of preserving trees or increasing their number, very many have been cut or seriously damaged. Today the “heat island” effect (temperatures higher than the surrounding more rural areas) of the inner city is clearly felt as streets and buildings absorb solar radiation and then radiate it back. The result is not only discomfort but real stresses to the human organism. Trees obviously have the great potential for mitigating the “heat island “ effect in addition to all the known benefits of shielding people from the sun’s rays, reducing air and noise pollution, all of which have negative health impacts. To a small extent, local government is making concessions to environment groups’ calls to re-green the city. But what is needed is a more massive program. Planting trees is entirely do-able and must be done for the health of the population. We always knew that trees and green areas could uplift the spirits and simply make us feel good, now scientists tell us that there is evidence about the healing effects of trees and nature.

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