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Our Program Director Reflects on Health In Harmony’s Emergency Response to COVID-19 and the Climate Crisis

I have been reflecting on Mother’s Day, and how my greatest hope last weekend was to spend it in my new garden beds, growing food and perhaps a few flowers. I feel lucky to have a bit of yard to cultivate, to enjoy the spring birds with my son, and to celebrate the greatness of Mother Nature, who takes such forgiving and humble care of us.

My work at Health In Harmony affords me the privilege to work from home. A place that has become part office, school, coffee shop, brewery, and a while of mild chaos unbound by time. Like many of you, I have been struck by waves of grief, overwhelm, and hopeful optimism. The COVID-19 crisis seems but a harbinger of things to come, as I process the impending impact of the climate crisis and the interrelation of these ever-present opportunities to individually, and collectively create change.

We are aware of the great injustices that are exacerbated during this crisis, its imminence generating a whiplash effect of social and economic shifts unlike ever before. This pandemic and the climate crisis are threat multipliers, but if we look closely and observe some of the remarkable interconnections present – they also reveal some of the greatest opportunities.

We are emitting dramatically less carbon. I eagerly await the research and analysis of the Earth’s resilience during this brief period of quieting consumption, movement, and capitol. And I am hopeful that many of us can embrace these new habits as a drawdown opportunity.

We, as an international community, have also – with remarkable speed – engaged in a global conversation. This conversation, though anthropocentric in nature, emphasizes our collective health. I imagine we can have a similar conservation about the climate crisis.

As Christina Figueres, the architect of the Paris Agreement stated:

“We are only as safe as our most vulnerable people. That lesson has taken us into a space of solidarity that we’ve never seen before. We are taking care of each other both out of altruism and because we want to make sure that we’re safe. That’s exactly the thinking we need to deal with climate change.”

At Health In Harmony, we launched a rapid emergency health response, focused on prevention and preparedness in Indonesia and Madagascar. We now aim to support medical response efforts in Brazil, too. In an effort to support those most threatened by the pandemic and strengthen the health systems that support these communities, we also place equal emphasis on the health of Mother Nature and the vulnerability of precious ecosystems, that hold boundless opportunity for planetary health.

This led to our creation of a stimulus package for rainforest communities. This intervention applies a tiered risk analysis to support the immediate economic needs of those most likely to turn to the rainforest for quick liquidity in a health emergency. After twelve years of working in planetary health – one thing is clear – the greatest guardians of the world’s most precious rainforests need their health and wellbeing protected, otherwise they have no choice but to degrade rainforests to save their families.

A reforestation worker laughing as she plants seedlings. Photo by Stephanie Gee.

In Madagascar, this conservation stimulus package will support the development of diverse agriculture and proliferation of village gardens, modern rice cultivation and irrigation, as well as reforestation that will have lasting impacts on community nutrition, health, and overall wellbeing. Similarly in Indonesia, the conservation stimulus package will support those most likely to log by offering to purchase the remaining chainsaws from loggers, and provide revenue generation opportunities through backyard nurseries, where former loggers, farmers, and business owners impacted by the pandemic will be paid to grow native seedlings for reforestation.

By 2030, we must reduce our emissions by at least fifty percent. As we enter this new decade, we have a transformational opportunity to honor, celebrate, and embrace Mother Nature.

Thank you for embracing our team, and our holistic model. Thank you for making new opportunities for rainforest communities a reality during this challenging time. This important work for rainforest communities and all who benefit from their guardianship would not be possible without your support.

If you have questions about our emergency conservation programs, please do not hesitate to reach out. If you would like to contribute to our emergency conservation fund, we would be incredibly grateful.

With love and hope,

Ashley Emerson, Program Director

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