Hundreds of Indonesian health workers have signed an open letter which is reminding President Joko Widodo as well as leaders of other countries with sprawling forests, that protecting forests was really important in preventing and mitigating pandemic such as the current Covid-19.
“Forests are the lung, heart and immune system of our planet. Because of this ecosystem service for humans, the protection of forests becomes very important for the sake of preventing and mitigating pandemic, and other infectious diseases in the future,” the letter, read out by Arif Wicaksono, a medical doctor and also a lecturer at the Tanjungpura University said.
Initiated by the Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) Foundation, the letter also stressed that the protection of forest was very important and needed to be part of the solution to mitigating the current dangers and boost resilience against future threats. The letter was read out during an online discussion on Thursday (24/9) taking the theme of “Prevent Deforestation for a Healthier Indonesia.”
The letter referred to the forests and ground fires that had become an annual phenomenon every dry season in the past decades and had led to an environmental and public health crisis.
“Without the pandemic, forest and ground fires already had a fatal impact on health, and at present, it is even more so, forest and ground fires have the potentials of exacerbating Covid 19 and its spread,” the letter said.
Monica Nirmala, Executive Director of Asri Foundation, said that air pollution undermined human immunity and made them more vulnerable to virus infections, especially those of the respiratory system.
“Air pollution from the smoke of forest and ground fires made us more vulnerable to Covid-19 infection,” she added,
She added that even without Covid-19, health problems caused by the forest and ground fires already burdened the country’s health system. With Covid-19, the burden has become even more heavier.
“We, the undersigned health professionals, are calling on leaders in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Bolivia and the European Commission to act urgently to prevent forest and ground fires, as part of the response to Covid-19,” the letter said.
The letter with by noon Thursday had already gathered some 600 signatures, also said that actions needed to be taken immediately, for the sake of saving humans and the environment from forest and ground fires which Monica said had become an annual event for Indonesia in past decades.
“If we fail, globally and nationally, to make the prevention of forest and ground fires as an important part of the response to Covid-19, then sufferings and death can only worsen during the current pandemic crisis,” the open letter said.
It also said that among the actions that governments in forest rich nations could take was to ban the use of fire in clearing forest, peat land, and degraded land, mobilize government’s efforts in preventing and overcoming forest and ground fires and also to investigate and take the owner or management of companies found to still engage in burning land, intentionally or because of negligence, to court.
Governments were also called on to enter partnership with local and indigenous communities to protect their rights to their land and protect them from the use of fires in clearing of land by corporations and speculators.
For other governments, the coalition urged them to ban the import of products that were related to deforestation.
Doni Monardo, who heads the national Covid-19 task force and is concurrently also the head of the National Agency for Disaster Mitigation (PNPB), said at the same occasion that following his own direct monitoring visits to a number of forest fire prone provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan had shown that “there was almost no plantation that caught fires, be that timer estates or oil palm plantations.”
Monardo also provided a confirmation about the links between forest and ground forests and the high number of Covid-19 cases. He took the example of South Kalimantan, a province which he said had a high potential in terms of forest and ground forests this year and said that the same province also showed that there was a high number of both Covid-19 infection cases as well as fatalities.
Monardo said that as of August 2020, the country had seen 103,189 hectares of mineral land gutted and also 17,347 hectares of peat land that had burned this year.