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Mangrove Forests Saved Lives In Tsunami Disaster

Mangrove Forests Saved Lives In 2004 Tsunami Disaster

Healthy mangroves safeguard the security and wellbeing of coastal settlements, show restoration programmes and surveys carried out by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) this year

Bangkok, Thailand/Colombo, Sri Lanka, 19 December 2005 (IUCN) - The tsunami that hit Asia in December 2004 caused massive destruction and loss of life. It also revealed the consequences of severe degradation of coastal ecosystems over the last decades: where mangrove forests had been lost, the wave did its worst.

Mangroves can absorb 70-90 percent of the energy of a normal wave, even though reliable figures for tsunamis are not available. Kapuhenwala and Wanduruppa, two villages in the lagoon of southern Sri Lanka, show the importance of mangroves in saving lives: in Kapuhenwala, surrounded by 200 hectares of dense mangroves and scrub forest, the tsunami killed only two people – the lowest number of tsunami related fatalities in a Sri Lankan village. Wanduruppa, surrounded by degraded mangroves was severely affected: 5,000 to 6,000 people died in the district.

“Damage could have been prevented with a healthy mangrove barrier protecting the shoreline,” says Achim Steiner, Director General of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). “Now that the emergency is over, it is time to start reconstructing the environmental infrastructure of the region.”

Over the past year, the Union has started restoring hundreds of hectares of mangroves in Sri Lanka and southern Thailand, mainly around protected areas. The Union also launched Mangroves for the Future, a US$ 45 million programme that aims to build natural barriers of mangroves in twelve countries in Asia and Africa.

Half of Sri Lanka's mangrove forests have disappeared

Almost 40 percent of the world’s mangroves are concentrated in Asia. However, this natural protective barrier has largely disappeared: more than half of Sri Lanka’s mangroves have been lost; on Thailand’s Andaman coast barely 100 hectares of mangroves are left.

The tsunami therefore hit largely unprotected coastlines, killing more than 200,000 people and destroying the livelihoods of many more. Around 80-90 percent of the near- and offshore fishing fleet was lost. In Southeast Asia more than 70% of the population lives within the coastal zone and depends heavily on marine resources for their income. One billion Asians rely on fish as their primary source of protein.

Healthy mangroves protect coastal communities from the sea, but they are also profitable ecosystems in themselves. Mangroves act as nurseries for a wide range of species: fish and shrimp spawn and mature in mangrove ecosystems before moving into deep and open waters. As such, mangroves play an important role in the ecology that supports artisan fisheries of coastal communities.

“Mangroves support production, income and employment in sectors such as fisheries and tourism, and they provide essential ecological services which safeguard the security and wellbeing of coastal settlements”, explains Lucy Emerton, economist and head of the IUCN regional Ecosystems and Livelihoods Group in Colombo.

An economic household survey carried out in Kapuhenwala village (Sri Lanka) by IUCN this year, indicates that intact and healthy mangroves can have an overall use value of as much as US$ 14,000 per hectare per household. The protection value of mangroves is estimated at around US$ 2,000 per household. The study assessed the avoided tsunami damage to property, livelihoods such as fishing boats or agricultural crops, public infrastructure or costs of hospitalization due to injuries.

Small grants for greening the reconstruction process – the Green Coast Recovery Programme

The World Conservation Union, WWF, Wetlands International and partner organizations from the Netherlands have launched a small grant scheme for Green Coast Recovery in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia, aiming at bridging livelihood restoration and nature conservation.

Needs of coastal and island communities are being identified. In Sri Lanka, a total amount of US$ 730,000 is available to several hundreds of households, especially women, for small projects ranging from sustainable fishing, organic farming, to eco-tourism. The amount foreseen in Thailand is US$ 94,000.

“IUCN’s post-tsunami intervention mainly aimed at greening the reconstruction process and assisting coastal populations to recover their livelihoods as a long term development goal,” says Shiranee Yasaratne, Country Representative of the World Conservation Union in Sri Lanka. IUCN’s tsunami related work was initiated by an immense solidarity from IUCN Members and staff, core donors and corporate sector sponsors.

Over the past year, IUCN supported local communities in Sri Lanka and Thailand with a dozen of coastal restoration programmes. Projects included beach clean ups and reef monitoring in the Andaman Sea, dissemination of best practice guidelines for environmentally sound reconstruction to government and relief agencies, marine and terrestrial assessments of environmental damages, improving jurisdiction over coastal and marine resources, land use planning for Ko Phra Tong, an island 150km north of Phuket and a relief programme for Wanduruppa.

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