What we’re reading: Blackouts in Venezuela, ‘green Oscars’ in Indonesia

Orangutan in Borneo.

An orangutan hangs from a tree while having a snack on the island of Borneo. The island’s orangutans are benefiting from a program devised by a dental surgeon, wherein health care incentives are used to discourage logging. The program earned the surgeon a “green Oscar.” (© Trond Larsen)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In this occasional series, Human Nature shares three recent stories of interest in our world. 

1. Venezuela declares a 2-day workweek because of dire energy shortages

The story: Public-sector employees in this South American country had an unscheduled five-day weekend due to electricity rationing, the Washington Post reported. An El Niño-induced drought is drying up the water supply to Venezuela’s dams, including the massive Guri Dam, one of the largest in the world (and one that supplies 60% of the country’s electricity). Things got so bad that the embattled government decided to furlough public employees — a third of the country’s labor force — for the majority of the workweek.

With El Niño likely to worsen in the coming years, the situation is not likely to get any rosier for the country, already racked by everything from political and economic instability to a shortage of beer.

What’s next: If significant precipitation does not fall within a few weeks, the Post reported, much of the country will be at risk of near-total blackout.

Read more here. 

2. Tanzania’s forest conservation at risk as funds run out

The story: An international climate effort to provide financial incentives to developing countries in exchange for keeping their forests intact has hit a snag in Tanzania, Reuters reported. The effort, known as REDD+ (short for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), works when richer countries buy credits for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, with the money used to protect tropical forests and support forest communities.

But a new report found that financing for REDD+ in Tanzania had “stagnated,” leading to concerns about the future of the initiative and of the East African country’s forests: About 40% of Tanzania is forested, but as recently as 2005 was found to be losing about 1% of forest cover a year.

What’s next: As the future of REDD+ projects around the world is being hashed out at national and local levels, Tanzania is working with the World Bank to shore up stopgap funding for its REDD+ programs to ensure, as the report states, that “the good work done so far doesn’t go to waste.”

Read more here.

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3. Dentist wins ‘green Oscar’ for using healthcare incentives to halt logging

The story: An Indonesian dental surgeon has helped save orangutans on the island of Borneo by offering people health care discounts if their rural communities agree to stop illegal logging, the Guardian reported. “One of the drivers to log is instant cash to pay bills — particularly medical bills,” said Dr. Hotlin Ompusunggu.  “If your loved one is dying, you will do anything to help.”

Under the terms of Ompusunggu’s plan, villages that cease logging receive discounts of up to 70% on medical care. Since 2007, the Guardian reported, communities in the program have seen significant health improvements while illegal logging in the area has plummeted.

What’s next: Last week, Ompusunggu won the 2016 Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) gold award, dubbed the “green Oscar.” She said she will use her GBP 50,000 (US$ 73,000) prize money to expand the incentive program.

Read more here.

Bruno Vander Velde is Conservation International’s editorial director.

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