Pulling teeth, saving trees

A doctor treats a patient at the ASRI clinic near Gunung Palung National Park, Indonesia A doctor treats a patient at the ASRI clinic near Gunung Palung National Park, Indonesia Bryan Watt
04 May
2016
An innovative conservation project in Borneo rewards local communities with discounted medical care in return for protecting threatened tropical forests

As exhibited so clearly during the 2016 Whitley Awards last week, conservation and development now walk hand-in-hand. With the installation of community engagement and education programmes from Pakistan to Madagascar, from Georgia to Tanzania, in order for conservation projects designed to protect forests and wildlife to succeed, they require complete co-operation from local communities. In turn, connecting with these communities can help improve levels of literacy, health, and general life prospects.

However, few projects have been as creative as Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), an NGO co-founded in Indonesia by dentist Hotlin Ompusunggu in 2007. ASRI engaged with communities to find out the reasons why people found themselves tempted to deforest and sell timber. ‘They asked if they can have affordable and accessible healthcare,’ reveals Ompusunggu. Therefore, she and her team set up a system whereby they can improve people’s access to healthcare, providing up to 70 per cent off medical care for families who stop logging. Even people who are unable to pay at all can instead participate in conservation activities such as reforestation or organic farming to pay their bills.

rainforestThe natural rainforest landscape of Gunung Palung National Park, Indonesia (Image: Endro Setiawan)

The focus of ASRI’s attention is to protect Gunung Palung National Park in southwest Borneo, a rainforest covering 1,100km2. It provides a habitat for endangered species such as clouded leopards, gibbons, and hornbills, and is also home to ten per cent of the global orang-utan population. Despite these precarious wildlife species, deforestation has become a major threat to the park, as local communities are driven to logging as a source of income to try and overcome poverty.

‘In 2007, we asked the community, if the global community wants to help you to protect the forest, what would you ask for?’ explains Ompusunggu. ‘They asked for medical care, and dental care. Because it was very expensive – that was one reason for them to do illegal logging, to pay their medical bills. We designed it with the community, and we have a system now – if my patient needs a root canal, or they need follow up antibiotics, which is sometimes very expensive, they get a 70 per cent discount – if they protect the forest!’

hotlinAlam Sehat Lestari co-founder and Whitley Gold Award winner, Hotlin Ompusunggu (Image: Republika)

Ompusunggu won a Whitley Award in 2011, and last week was awarded the prestigious Whitley Gold Award, a £50,000 grant in recognition of her continued ‘outstanding contribution to conservation’. Since 2011, she has been able to ‘significantly decrease’ illegal logging in 18 villages, has set up teams of Forest Guardians in all 74 sub-villages that border Gunung Palung National Park or that are part of the park’s greater periphery, and has planted over 100,000 native seedlings to begin the process of reforesting the park.

This latest grant will enable her to continue ASRI’s work, establishing Indonesia’s first Conservation Hospital to serve as a first class medical facility and environmental education facility, mapping the park’s boundary to reduce land-use conflicts, and reach 200 children from six schools through ASRI’s education programme and field trips to the park. ‘We’ve been running this program now for nine years, and we’re thinking of how we can scale up,’ says Ompusunggu. ‘With the help of the Whitley Fund for Nature, we are hoping to work on other potential project sites in Indonesia.’

orangutanGunung Palung National Park holds ten per cent of the world’s orang-utan population (Image: Bryan Watt)

‘I was at first interested in the idea of community development, and how to improve the lives of people,’ she continues. ‘But since I worked on this project, I learned that community development is only achievable in a more holistic way, where we also address the issue of the environment. We can serve the heart of the community, but what happens if they don’t have any more forests, which are the source of water for them? Saving the forest is not just a local responsibility; it’s all our responsibilities. We live in one world, what happens in Indonesia will influence another part of the world. But it happens to be that they are the ones who live near the forest, and they know how to protect the forest. But they’re not able to do so, so we are helping them to do what we cannot, by providing incentives. So it’s a fair trade – it’s not “helping the poor”, but helping them to protect the forest that we also value.’

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Leave a comment

ONLY registered members can leave comments and each comment is held pending authorisation before publishing. Please login or register to voice your opinion.

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Forests

HSBC has requested an Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil investigation…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig explores visions of a world made bright by humanity

Forests

The EU has asked the European court to authorise an…

Forests

Was last year’s El Niño a practice run for future…

Cities

Far from being separate threats, scientists have found links between…

Mountains

Is the official height of Mount Everest accurate?

Mapping

Where in the world is the highest density of languages?…

Cities

The next stage in autonomous vehicles is hoping to transform…

Mapping

Geographical’s resident data cartographer presents a true picture of the…

Water

What impact could an unprecedented incident of ‘river piracy’ have…

Mountains

Norway is to undercut a mountainous peninsula to create the…

Mapping

Benjmain Hennig explores global mortality with maps

Water

Last winter’s cold conditions contributed a further influx of road…

Water

As one of America’s biggest cities, supplying clean drinking water…

Cities

Cape Town’s Foreshore Freeway Bridge has been left unfinished for…

Mapping

An interactive map highlights the shocking number of ongoing conflicts…

Mapping

Repurposed NASA maps show the racial diversity (and segregation) of…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig maps Europe's public train networks

Mapping

A new map of global landslide susceptibility reveals vast geographical…

Deserts

For decades, scientists have been divided over how these eerily…