By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

A holiday is a day of recognition, reverence and, of course, celebration. March 21 is the day for recognizing the importance of forests and all that they provide us with, from the clean air we breathe to the perspective we gain when standing next to a towering, ancient tree.

River in forest

The United Nations General Assembly (UN) declared this annual holiday on December 21, 2012 to raise awareness of the importance of forests to people. Forests provide for 1.6 billion people who depend on them for their livelihoods, medicine, fuel and food. The benefits they provide are too endless to list — they are one of the largest carbon sinks (anything that absorbs more carbon than it releases). They prevent soil erosion and preserve the integrity of topsoil, and being in the presence of trees has even proven to promote healing and calmness in people.

Boating in water through forest.

To celebrate International Day of Forests, the UN encourages all Member States to “organize activities relating to all types of forests. Activities expected to take place on the International Day include tree-planting and other community-level events, and national celebrations including art, photo and film as well as social media outreach.” The UN sees the day as a chance to communicate the vital role that forests play in some of the toughest issues we face today such as poverty eradication, environmental sustainability and food security.

Each year, a theme is chosen for the day. This year’s theme is Forests and Water and emphasizes the role that forests play in cleaning our water. About one-third of the world’s largest cities obtain a significant proportion of their drinking water from forested protected areas, and forested watershed and wetlands supply 75 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater. Trees also slow water runoff through their leaves and absorb polluted water through their roots, allowing pollution to be filtered naturally and improving quality in rivers and streams.

Credit: Chuck Fazio.

To learn more about forests and role they play in cleaning water, visit our Forests and Water critical issues page.

Consider celebrating International Day of Forests this year by planting tree in forests across the world. To learn more, visit our Plant Trees page.