Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mangrove loss 'put Burma at risk'

BBC: Destruction of mangrove forests in Burma left coastal areas exposed to the devastating force of the weekend's cyclone, a top politician suggests. ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said coastal developments had resulted in mangroves, which act as a natural defence against storms, being lost. At least 22,000 people have died in the disaster, say state officials.

A study of the 2004 Asian tsunami found that areas near healthy mangroves suffered less damage and fewer deaths. Mr Surin, speaking at a high-level meeting of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore, said the combination of more people living in coastal areas and the loss of mangroves had exacerbated the tragedy.

Mangroves are salt-tolerant evergreens that grow along coastlines, rivers and deltas. Found in more than 120 tropical and subtropical nations, the plants' root systems have been shown to dissipate wave energy. "Encroachment into mangrove forests, which used to serve as a buffer between the rising tide, between big waves and storms and residential areas; all those lands have been destroyed," the AFP news agency reported him as saying. "Human beings are now direct victims of such natural forces."

….Mangroves have been long considered as "bio-guards" for coastal settlements. A study published in December 2005 said healthy mangrove forests helped save Sri Lankan villagers during the Asian tsunami disaster, which claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people. Researchers from IUCN, formerly known as the World Conservation Union, compared the death toll from two villages in Sri Lanka that were hit by the devastating giant waves….

Before and after flooding from Cyclone Nargis, NASA, Wikimedia Commons

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