Imagine you have a sick child, and you need to cover the cost of a trip to the doctor. Now imagine that you earn around $1 a day. How will you pay for it?

For the 60,000 people living around Gunung Palung National Park, in Borneo, this isn’t a hypothetical question, but the desperate reality for those whose health has become inextricably linked to the natural world around them. Faced with the steep costs of medical care, they have resorted to illegal logging in their neighbouring rainforest as a means of earning fast cash. It is a situation in which both people and the planet lose out.

Image from Chelsea Call

The world’s forests cover as much as 30 per cent of our land area, they give us air to breath (the Amazon Rainforest alone produces 20 per cent of the planet’s oxygen) and they are home to roughly 70 per cent of our entire animal and plant species. Despite these awesome life-giving properties, we could lose all our rainforests in the next 100 years based on the current rate of deforestation. From cattle ranching, to logging and palm oil, there are myriad reasons – all of which pivot around money – behind the fact that we’re tearing down paradise at a rate of 36 football fields a minute.

In Indonesia, the tropical forests have reduced by 70 per cent. It’s the complex, localised reasons behind deforestation in this particular part of the world, that a small charity called Health in Harmony seeks to respond to. Its founder, Kinari Webb, started the organisation in 2005 after an eye-opening trip to study orangutans in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, showed her the paper-thin connection between human and ecosystem health.

Faced with chronic health concerns, as a result of their poor diet and just one doctor for 60,000 people, villagers head into the forest to fell and sell established trees as a way of paying for the mounting costs. Webb realised she could turn this crisis into an opportunity, by providing high-quality health provision for communities which border the rainforest in return for their service in protecting the land. It is a solution that breaks the cycle of poverty, poor health and environmental degradation.

Image from Katie Homes

The operating model rests on the core provision of low-cost healthcare, with two discount bands. Residents of zero-logging – or ‘green’ – villages, receive a 70 per cent discount, whilst residents in ‘red’ villages, where logging still takes place, only receive a 30 per cent discount. It’s enough of an incentive to see the rate of illegal logging reduced by up to 68 per cent in the area, as red villages strive for green level status.

Aside from the clear financial incentives, there is another reason why Health in Harmony believes the approach works – the principle of ‘radical listening’, whereby communities are directly consulted and trusted to devise their own solutions. It was this principle which initiated the formation of the Forest Guardians committee, which gives accountability to nominated villagers and allows them to approach communities where logging still takes place and propose alternative solutions.

Deforestation contributes as much as 20 per cent to global carbon emissions, making it a key driver behind climate change. When we lose our rainforests, we lose our natural carbon sinks, thousands of interdependent specifies, and a powerful set of green lungs that keep our planet breathing. This solution creates a new paradigm around the notion of ‘value’ that our ecosystem provides us with. And in doing so it pushes us another step towards a sustainable future. 

Image from Chelsea Call

Image from Michelle Bussard

This innovation is part of Sustainia100; a study of 100 leading sustainability solutions from around the world. The study is conducted annually by Scandinavian think tank Sustainia that works to secure deployment of sustainable solutions in communities around the world. This year’s Sustainia100 study is freely available at – Discover more solutions at @sustainia and #100solutions

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