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Healthy forests for healthy lives

  • Novia D. Rulistia

    The Jakarta Post

Ketapang,West Kalimantan | Tue, February 23, 2016 | 09:41 am
Healthy forests for healthy lives All green: Various types of seedlings are seen ready for planting at the ASRI reforestation site, Laman Satong. (JP/Novia D. Rulistia)" height="339" border="0" width="510">

All green: Various types of seedlings are seen ready for planting at the ASRI reforestation site, Laman Satong. (JP/Novia D. Rulistia)

There is a very effective way to combat deforestation: trading chainsaws for stethoscopes.

In Sukadana village, located at the foot of Palung Mountain National Park in West Kalimantan, doctors, environmentalists and local people work together to save the forest to save lives.

The non-profit organization, Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), combines forest-protection methods with proper and affordable health care as it believes that there is a substantial link between human health and environmental health.

“There’s a vicious cycle between poverty, ill-health, deforestation and illegal logging and we must find comprehensive ways to solve it,” said Hotlin Ompusunggu, ASRI’s co-founder, said.

ASRI was founded by an American doctor, Kinari Webb, and Hotlin in 2007. They chose the Palung Mountain National Park as their operational ground, as the 90,000-hectare rain forest that is home to 10 percent of the world’s surviving orangutan population could still be saved.

There were also a huge need for health care as tuberculosis, malaria, diarrhea and diabetes cases were common.

Hotlin, who is also a dentist, said people in the villages lived in poverty with no access to proper health care.

Work in progress: ASRI reforestation team members collect data on tree growth at ASRI’s Sedahan reforestation site.(Courtesy of ASRI-Michelle Bussard)

All green: Various types of seedlings are seen ready for planting at the ASRI reforestation site, Laman Satong. (JP/Novia D. Rulistia)

There is a very effective way to combat deforestation: trading chainsaws for stethoscopes.

In Sukadana village, located at the foot of Palung Mountain National Park in West Kalimantan, doctors, environmentalists and local people work together to save the forest to save lives.

The non-profit organization, Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), combines forest-protection methods with proper and affordable health care as it believes that there is a substantial link between human health and environmental health.

'€œThere'€™s a vicious cycle between poverty, ill-health, deforestation and illegal logging and we must find comprehensive ways to solve it,'€ said Hotlin Ompusunggu, ASRI'€™s co-founder, said.

ASRI was founded by an American doctor, Kinari Webb, and Hotlin in 2007. They chose the Palung Mountain National Park as their operational ground, as the 90,000-hectare rain forest that is home to 10 percent of the world'€™s surviving orangutan population could still be saved.

There were also a huge need for health care as tuberculosis, malaria, diarrhea and diabetes cases were common.

Hotlin, who is also a dentist, said people in the villages lived in poverty with no access to proper health care.

Work in progress: ASRI reforestation team members collect data on tree growth at ASRI'€™s Sedahan reforestation site.(Courtesy of ASRI-Michelle Bussard)

Work in progress: ASRI reforestation team members collect data on tree growth at ASRI'€™s Sedahan reforestation site.(Courtesy of ASRI-Yayat Aryadi)

'€œWhen they got sick, they would cut down trees to be sold because that'€™s the easiest way to earn money to go to the doctor,'€ she said, adding that it could take 60 trees to be cut down to pay for a surgical operation.

To be able to solve the problems, they must first get the trust of the local people. They held a series of long discussions with local communities, and from the total of 23 villages that border the National Park, 21 immediately agreed to sign an agreement to participate in ASRI'€™s programs.

She added that one village refused to participate due to border issues, while the other refused because the village head was involved in logging activities.

'€œFrom the discussions, we learned that they wanted proper health care and information on organic farming as an alternative to earn a living. In return, we asked them to participate in our forest-conservation programs,'€ Hotlin said.

ASRI'€™s clinic is open four days a week, offering a wide range of services, including inpatient facilities, free immunization, general medicine, dental care and a comprehensive pharmacy.

'€œThere are discounts for healthcare costs that are determined according to the zones in which their villages are located,'€ Webb said.

ASRI has set up five color zones: green, yellow, red and blue for areas that border the park and purple for communities outside the border. These are based on the reports collected by ASRI'€™s Forest Guardian team who always keep an eye out for destructive activities in the National Park areas.

A green zone means no logging activities are found in the area, and residents who live there can get 70 percent discount for medical services; yellow and blue zones get 50 percent and red zone residents get 30 percent.

'€œPatients who don'€™t have money can pay with items that will be used in conservation projects, such as plant seedlings, manure, or traditional mats, or by working for ASRI,'€ Webb said.

The seedlings will later be planted in ASRI'€™s reforestation areas in Sedahan Jaya village and Laman Satong village by the local communities under the supervision of ASRI'€™s conservation team.

In Laman Satong, they have replanted a total of 20 hectares of forest since 2009. Unfortunately, most of the area caught fire in 2013, bringing their efforts back to zero.

'€œWe started to replant it in 2014 with various types of tree, especially with trees that can easily grow after fires and are resilient, such as jengkol [dog fruit],'€ Fransiscus Xaverius, the reforestation manager, said.

ASRI also works with other environmental organizations, including the National Park'€™s office.

'€œWe hope in the near future to reach an agreement on how ASRI'€™s network of Forest Guardians can support the activities of the forest police to improve law enforcement, possibly through joint patrolling or finding a way to pass along information without being perceived as '€˜spies'€™ of the National Park,'€ said ASRI conservation staff member Erica Pohnan.

There are many oil palm plantations just across from the National Park'€™s Laman Satong area. However, Pohnan said, ASRI did not have any concrete collaboration with them around the Palung mountain landscape.

ASRI programs have been successful in turning loggers into conservation workers and empowering communities with various skills, including sustainable farming, administrative and computer skills.

Initially, there were 1,350 households that were involved in illegal logging, the number is now down to 180.

Those who were reluctant to give up their chainsaws, Hotlin said, were mostly those who did not have land for farming.

Hotlin said in line with the improvement of the forest, people also lived a healthier life based on the improved health indicators, such as infant mortality, down from 3.4 percent in 2007 to 1.1 percent in 2012 and diarrhea, from 40 percent to 2 percent.

'€œWe won'€™t stop there. We'€™re now building a hospital to improve our services to the people and we'€™re also thinking of new ways to engage people more in our conservation strategy,'€ she said.

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