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Urban forests help address pollution, climate change, and lack of water supply, says FAO

Forestry projects in Lima and Niteroi were highlighted by FAO on the eve of World Forest Day.

Before and after in Niteroi

March 20, 2018, Santiago, Chile - Multiple cities around the world are investing in their green areas to become more sustainable, resilient, healthy and pleasant places to live, FAO said on the eve of the International Day of Forests.

Some of these experiences areincluded in the new publication, "Sustainable Forests and Cities: Inspirational Stories from Around the World," launched today by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The publication highlights the different ways in which cities around the world have used forests and trees to improve the living conditions of their citizens, and highlights two projects in Latin America and the Caribbean: the afforestation of the district of Independencia, in north of Lima, Peru, and the urban forest of Niterói, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Forest parks to protect from landslides in Lima

From her precarious home made of plywood and calamine, Barbarita Gonzales has an excellent view of Lima, the second most populated desert city in the world after Cairo.

For the past year, she has been living with her family on the steep slope of a hill in the district of Independencia in northern Lima. Barbarita will soon give birth to her second child, but she worries that she may be evicted: her fragile home is in an area declared high risk for earthquakes and heavy rains, and could be destroyed at any time.

To face these risks, the municipality of Independencia launched a forestation project in 2015 to reduce the risk of natural disasters, including earthquakes and landslides. The project trained local people on ways to plant forests that help reduce disaster risk, stabilize hillsides, prevent rock falls, retain mud and sediment, and contribute to improving the environment.

An area of ​​14 hectares -equivalent to five football fields- has been designated as a park, which includes trails, viewpoints and family recreation spaces. As a result, 3500 native trees were planted and a drip irrigation system with treated wastewater was installed.

Niterói: the urban forest that we want

In 2013, ten thousand inhabitants of Niterói, a city located on the other side of the Rio de Janeiro bay, met at a public hearing to decide what kind of city they wanted.

Under the "Niterói that we want" plan, in 2014 the city expanded its system of local parks, creating 2 657 hectares of protected areas to complement the existing green areas, including an important park managed by the state - of 3 493 hectares - within the municipal limits.

Today 45.9 percent of the city's territory is under protection, with 123.2 square meters of forest per inhabitant: probably the largest per capita area of protected land of any municipality in a metropolitan region in Brazil.

Cities need forests and trees

More than half the world's population now lives in cities, and by 2050 almost 70 percent of the world will be urbanized. Although cities occupy only three percent of the Earth's surface, they consume 78 percent of energy and emit 60 percent of carbon dioxide.

Woodlands, forests and trees in a city and on its fringes perform a wide range of vital functions - such as storing carbon, removing air pollutants, assisting in food, energy and water security, restoring degraded soils and preventing drought and floods. In a medium size city, for instance, urban trees can reduce the loss of soil by around 10,000 tons per year.

By shading and cooling the air, forests and trees in urban areas can reduce extreme temperatures and mitigate the effects of climate change. Indeed, trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent.  In cold climates, by shielding homes from the wind, they can help save energy used for heating by 20-50 percent.

Urban and peri-urban forests can increase the resilience and quality of watersheds and water reservoirs by preventing erosion, limiting evapotranspiration and filtering pollutants. And planting fruit-bearing street trees can increase the availability of food within cities.

International Day of Forests

Given that this year the High-Level Political Forum will be reviewing SDG 11 on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, and SDG 15 on protecting terrestrial ecosystems, the choice of the theme for the International Day of Forests this year, which highlights the various benefits of urban forests and trees, could not have been more timely.

On 21 March, FAO will celebrate the Day and its theme "Forests and sustainable cities" at a special ceremony at FAO headquarters in Rome which will be attended by city administrators from Lima, Ljubljana, Philadelphia and Mantova. The event will be webcast here


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