Forests in Indonesia cover 68% of Indonesia’s total land area or equal to 4% of the world. However, this number is decreasing as deforestation is increasing. Based on Global Forest Watch data, Indonesia has lost 15% of its total forest cover over 2001 to 2017. 89% of the loss of forest cover was caused by deforestation.
Deforestation is basically converting forest land to non-forest, such as plantations, agriculture, settlements, and so on. As is well known, forests are often associated with malaria transmission dynamics. This dynamic transmission is an interaction that involves three factors: mosquito vectors (Anopheles species), protozoa parasites (plasmodium species), and vertebrate (human, etc). The forest itself is an optimal ecosystem for the malaria vector to multiply. The density of vegetation cover, high rainfall and relative humidity, and temperatures ranging from 21-30oC are very crucial to the proliferation of malaria parasites.
Deforestation causes changes in forest cover, thus increasing the growth rate of pathogens and their spread from animals to humans. Research by Chaves et al (2018) in the Amazon Tropical Forest found the fact that there was a positive correlation between the number of malaria cases, deforestation and degradation of the Amazon Forest. Deforestation causes the emergence of forest edges which are transition zones between forest cover and open areas. In this area, small ponds are often formed with enough sunlight exposure, thus making it an optimal location for malaria vectors. Habitat change can also optimize the growth of other species.
Not only that, forest areas that are deforested are generally intended for a variety of human activities for agriculture, plantations, and settlements. Barros et al (2015) in their study stated that people living within 400 m and closer to potential transmission hotspots were 2.6 times more likely to develop malaria. Mosquito bite rates are also affected by deforestation. Research conducted by Vittor et al (2006) found the fact that Anopheles darlingi were estimated to have increased bite rates by 278 times in deforested habitats. The increasing number of malaria cases due to deforestation will have an impact on the costs incurred to treat the disease.
Environmental damage due to deforestation is also an unavoidable impact. Uncontrolled deforestation can cause loss of biodiversity, carbon gas emissions, also climate change. Environmental losses due to deforestation can be quantified through the assessment of ecosystem services. These ecosystem services are grouped into three, namely Provision Services, Regulating Services, and Cultural Services. Provider functions include wood and non-wood products, wood fiber, fuel, and food production. The regulatory function is derived from the process of regulating ecosystems such as air quality regulation, climate regulation, water, erosion, pollination, and natural disasters. For example, the existence of deforestation will give a lot of harm to these ecosystem services related to the amount of carbon emissions produced. The cultural function of the ecosystem is a non-material benefit obtained by humans such as recreation/ecotourism, aesthetic values, and spiritual enrichment.
To understand the impact of deforestation, Indonesia One Health University Network (INDOHUN) with USAID, EcoHealth Alliance, and the University of Minnesota (UMN) conducted a collaborative research called DEAL (Disease Emergence and Economic Evaluation of Altered Landscapes) which aims to understand the impact of land use change or deforestation on health and the environment. This research also aims to provide scientific evidence to alleviate the negative impacts that may arise in Indonesian society. The DEAL research is located in three provinces in Indonesia, namely Riau, East Kalimantan and West Papua.
Picture 1. Location of the DEAL project implementation in Indonesia
DEAL research has several main activities: 1) collecting and analyzing data to illustrate the relationship between land use change and health impacts, especially zoonotic diseases and diseases that are transmitted through animal intermediaries, 2) developing model to estimate health-related economic costs as a result of land use conversion with a focus on deforestation and one health, 3) informing the results of research to stakeholders as recommendations for developing policies and guidelines for the involvement of the general public, and 4) increasing the capacity of local universities.
In the process of data collection and analysis, this research collaborates with various parties to ensure objectivity, data validity and reliability. Spatial and temporal data on land cover were obtained from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry of the Republic of Indonesia (KLHK) and European Space Agency (ESA). Data is then sorted, validated, and visualized through graphs and tables. The classification process and measurement of land cover conversion are also carried out to map changes in deforestation, changes in disease trends in location and time dimensions, as well as the relationship between deforestation and disease.
Based on data analysis for 25 years from 1990 to 2015, Riau gradually lost 1.6% of primary forest cover and 42.75% of secondary forest from 8.97 million hectares of forest area. Conversion of forest land to plantations is found in the province. Riau is the largest palm oil producer province in Indonesia. In 2010, palm oil production in Riau was able to meet 24% of the total national needs. Palm oil is a prima donna commodity with an area that dominates plantation land in Riau. The addition of plantation areas over a period of 20 years was recorded at 1.18 million hectares, equivalent to 13.21% of the total land cover area.
Not unlike Riau province, East Kalimantan experienced a decrease in primary forest cover area of 7.41% and secondary forest 6.62% of 12.65 million hectares of total forest area. Deforestation of forests in East Kalimantan is dominated by changes in forest land cover to thickets. The dominance of land conversion to shrubs indicates an indication of continued land use that will be carried out in the future.
Deforestation of forests in West Papua is still very small. However, the conversion of primary forest to secondary forest began to occur in this province. Within 25 years, there was a decline in the cover of primary forest area from 81.17% to 60.44% of the 9.78 million hectares of total forest cover area. The trend of increasing secondary forest area was seen from 10.08% to 29.72%. Increased secondary forest cover indicates the commencement of land conversion in forests in West Papua. Papua’s forests store various biodiversity and endemic species whose lives depend heavily on the balance of forest ecosystems.
Development of economic models related to health costs and lost ecosystem services was also developed in the DEAL research. Valuation of forest ecosystems is carried out to see how much economic loss arises due to deforestation. The economic model was formed by adopting the Project Malaysia economic Infectious Disease Emergence and Economics of Altered Landscapes (IDEEAL) model which has a framework similar to the DEAL project. This model is based on the economic benefits of plantations, expenditure due to malaria, and losses due to reduced utilization of ecosystems’ biological wealth.
Picture 2. IDEEAL economy model (USAID, 2014)
One of the main activities carried out in the DEAL research is to increase research capacity both internally and externally. Increasing research capacity is a form of effective and sustainable steps in order to improve and develop health. The gap in data quality and the ability of researchers is often a barrier in research involving various researchers. Collaborative research on DEAL provides capacity building for internal teams to exchange knowledge. In addition, DEAL also cooperates with local universities in 3 research locations namely the Riau University, Mulawarman University, and the Papua University to share research and information opportunities through the INDOHUN network. This study also provides training in scientific writing, grant proposal writing, and publications for researchers from Riau, East Kalimantan, and West Papua Provinces. Through this activity, it is expected to be able to improve data quality and data availability, improve research capabilities comprehensively and be able to develop fact-based policy formulations in accordance with health problems in their respective regions.
The policy brief is also one of the results that will be informed to stakeholders as recommendations for policy formulation related to changes in land cover in Indonesia. Stakeholders are an important factor in efforts to prevent further deforestation and sustainable forest use. The national conference is a channel to disseminate the results of this research to national and local stakeholders including government, non-government, and academics.
Forests should be properly managed and utilized as irresponsible forest utilization causes more losses than the benefits. We believe that wise and sustainable forest utilization will certainly provide benefits both ecologically and economically.