Health and conservation co-benefits in action in Borneo

Ashley Wineland, Health In Harmony

The 21st session of the UN climate talks is all about solutions. Countries have to agree on these solutions and finalise a universal and binding agreement so that the world can begin to tackle the issue of climate change. But while everyone at COP21 is debating potential solutions and their effectiveness, the ASRI Clinic in West Kalimantan, Borneo is already implementing real solutions and making incredible impacts within the local community.

Rainforests in Borneo are being deforested at rapid rates for timber, palm oil, and other resources, and threaten the health of the forest and of surrounding communities. Non-profits around the world have targeted this island in Indonesia as critical to environmental conservation and have attempted to create communities to decrease deforestation. When Dr. Kinari Webb, Dr. Hotlin Ompusunggu, and Dr. Antonia Gorog co-founded this non-profit clinic in 2007, they embraced the practice of “radical listening”. They held hundreds of hours of community meetings to understand community issues leading to logging and to determine the services needed by the community. They learned how community members knew they needed the forests and wanted to preserve it, but the lack of healthcare made logging necessary. People were logging in order to pay for the healthcare of themselves and their family.

Now ASRI, an acronym that means, “harmoniously balanced”, has been providing quality healthcare to communities in West Kalimantan and facilitating the conservation of their forests for seven years. They do this by providing economic discounts to communities who have ceased logging activity, allowing non-cash payments, and providing programmes that communities need. Every programme at ASRI has been developed as a result of community conversations and members expressing need for specific support. This includes education on sustainable and organic agriculture, ASRI Kids, Goats for Widows which distributes goat to women to help provide economic independence and security, and a Forest Guardian in every partner community who monitor logging in their own community and work as a liaison between the community and ASRI.

After countless aid and development programmes have previously failed in decreasing deforestation and assisting local people in West Kalimantan, ASRI is making wondrous strides and impacting the area in a real and meaningful way. Their integrative and community-based healthcare and conservation programme has helped to facilitate a more than 68 per cent decrease in illegal logging, and has served thousands of patients.  

These are the solutions we need. If we truly want to end climate change and the destruction it leaves behind, we must radically listen to communities on the frontlines. We must follow the lead and example of communities like those in West Kalimantan and allow solutions to begin locally and organically. These communities have so much to offer, so much knowledge of the devastation of climate change, and they know what real solutions look like in their communities.