Sunday, December 11, 2011

Want Cheap Health Care? Protect Your Forests

Want to get a discount on your medical bills? Well make your your village is not involved in any illegal logging activities. That’s the rule at the sustainable nature Asri Health Clinic, located near a National Park in West Kalimantan on the Indonesian island of Borneo. Reporter Heriyanto takes us deep into the jungle to see how clinic enforces this rule.

It’s early in the morning and already there is a long queue of people waiting to be seen at the Asri health clinic. Nurman looks worried. Today he has to pay a little bit more than usual for his medical treatment. He comes from a village that has been classifed as ‘red’ – which means illegal loggers are cutting down trees there.

60 year-old Nurman says he has tried to stop them. “I’m an old man; and getting sick; that’s what I told them. If you keep cutting our trees, you will make our village a red zone. You are just looking for profits, while I’m suffering here. I have to pay for my medication, and you don’t give any money to me. The law has to be implemented! I have back up from the society. Now when people are cutting mangrove trees, they will be arrested!”

Nurman’s village used to be classifed as a green one. Because of that, Nurman only had to pay 100 thousand rupiah, around 10 US dollar for two months worth of mediciation. Now the cost has double after his village lost its ‘green’ rating.
Clinic staff member Adi Bejo explains, “If the forest is damaged near the village...if we see chainsaws and the people around the area don’t seem to care about the environment and the national park, they will have to pay more money, although we still give discount about 30 percent.”

The forest he is talking about is Gunung Palung National Park, home to the endangered Orangutan or man of the forest.

American doctor Kinari Webb started at clinic on the outskirts of the park three years ago. “When I started living in this forest 17 years ago, I had a friend named Pak Tadin, who also works in the village. One day, he hurt his right arm. It was not too severe actually, it was big, but not that big. But he was scared to death. He was strong and brave man, but with that little harm, he was frightened. So then I realized that he had never get at tetanus injection. 17 years ago, there were no access to antibiotics. He did not understand anything about that. And that was his right hand. He can’t work because of that and he was the main support for the family.”

So she set-up this clinic.  She shows me her organic vegetable garden. If patients can’t pay for their medical bills with money they can work in these fields or give some seeds.
Kinari Webb believes, people are involved in illegal logging of the national park because they have no other alternatives. So she has also set-up training course in organic small-scale farming.

Local villager Srikandi took part in the course. “In my community, 85 percent are farmers while 15 percent are illegal loggers. After the clinic gave training on farming, now the illegal loggers can grow vegetables too. Now more people are growing vegetables.”

“Our clinic combines health care with environmental aspect. We believe that the earth can never be a healthy place if the people are not healthy, and so is the environment. So both must be healthy to have a healthier future for all of us. It’s the best solution – saving forest while saving the humans.”

Clinic staff member Adi says, since the clinic was set-up more and more people now realize the importance of keeping their forest intact. “We see a change in people’s way of life. They now realize that whenever they run out water, it’s because they’re cutting trees. They see the relation of cutting trees and cutting down their own water source.”

Red and green are not the only colors used by the clinic to mark villages. There are also blue and purple – for villages which share borders the national park but not doing anything for the environment.

They don’t get any discount. It took Benawai Agung village years to gain its status as a green village.  Almost everyday, illegal loggers use to cut down trees in the national park; one-third of the village forest has gone. But things are changing and the illegal logging has slow dramatically. And as a result the villagers enjoy a 70 percent discount at the health care clinic.

Ranita is very happy about that.  “This clinic really helps us, poor people. If we don’t have to money we can pay by other means.”

Dr Kinari Webb says, the world will thank people in the surrounding Gunung Palung National Park, for keeping their forest intact. “We can see so many changes in the past three years. People told me that before they came to the clinic, they don’t see the connection between human health with the earth. Now they realize that the forest is very important. People say, if they still want to have water in the future, they have to protect their forest.”

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