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Tsunami Mitigation : Need To Improve Coastal Ecology

Tsunami Mitigation : Need To Improve Coastal Ecology

by Ashok Sharma, Financial Express, India

Posted online: Monday, January 17, 2005 at 0008 hours IST

The Tsunami tidal waves have done extensive damage to coastal agriculture and fisheries. The death toll in the country has risen to 10,714 as per most conservative official estimate. The number of missing, including fishermen is estimated at 5,669, out of which 5,583 are from Andaman & Nicobar Islands alone.

Tsunami tidal waves were generated from the epicentre of an earthquake in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra on December 26, 2004 at 6.40 am IST. The intensity of the quake was 8.9 on Richter scale. It was the fourth largest trembler in the world since 1900 and Asia‚s worst earthquake since 1970. The Tsunami tidal waves not only affected coastal belts in south and southeast Asia, it also touched the east coasts of Africa.

According to reports, aftershocks are still continuing. In India alone 131 aftershocks have been felt so far, out of which 120 were of greater than 0.5 intensity on Richter scale and 11 were of greater than 6.0 intensity on the Richter scale.

This situation has caused the Union minister of science and technology, Kapil Sibal to convene a two-day meeting of related scientific institutions in the country from January 21 for evolving an effective warning situation. Right! We must have an effective warning system in place. But the most important issue is that of mitigation. A strong coastal ecology can mitigate and minimise likely disasters to be caused by tsunami, cyclones, storm surges.

Cyclones and storm surges are new in this country. Every year such disasters occur taking heavy toll on lives. Tsunamis, too, have occured in this country, even though Mr Sibal says that there occurrences were rare. Mr Sibal records only two tsunamis occurring in India: one in 326 BC when the forces of the Greek invader, Alexander the Great were presumed to be killed on account of its effect and the other in 1883.

However, noted US geologist Dr George Pararas-Carayannis says: "Destructive tsunamis are not uncommon in the Bay of Bengal or along the Sunda Trench. On June 26, 1941, a devastating earthquake in the Andaman Sea, with a Richter magnitude greater than 8.0 generated a major tsunami that killed more than 5,000 people on the east coast of India.

However, at that time, the media incorrectly attributed the deaths and damage to storm surges rather than to a tsunami generated by an earthquake. Many more deaths must have occurred but were not reported."

Scientists say that the frequency of natural disasters like storm surges, cyclones and tsunamis has increased on account of the damages done to the ecology. Environmental degradation has induced a global climate change and consequent rise in sea levels. The danger is almost knocking at our door!

The impact of natural disasters is becoming severe on account of destruction of coastal ecology. Since 1980s Asian sea coasts began destroying its ecology to pave the way for industrial aquaculture, unsustainable tourism (in place of eco-tourism) and coastal township for trade and commerce. The encouragement to develop industrial aquaculture came from the West and the Bretton Wood twins in the name of development.

Almost all of the northern oceans are over-exploited. The developed countries need seafoods for consumption. The only way was to encourage the Third World countries to exploit their oceans to satisfy the selfish needs of the North.

India too fell into the trap and diluted its norms for the coastal regulation zones (CRZs). Coastal mangrove cover was reduced to less than a third of its original in the past three decade, not knowing the fact that each acre of mangrove forest destroyed results in an estimated 676 pound loss in marine harvest!

Mangroves and coral reefs are the armour which safeguard the coasts from effects of tsunamis, storm surges and cyclones. Not only that it serves as a nursery for the tree-fourth of the commercial fish species that spend part of their life cycle in the mangrove swamps.

Let's see how the mangroves have mitigated the damages. Nias island in Indonesia is close to the epicentre of December 26 Tsunami. The damage here was less on account of mangroves. The damage done in Pichavaram and Nuthupet (having mangrove cover) in Tamil Nadu is very low.

In 1960 when tidal waves hit Bangladesh coast where mangroves were intact, there was not a single loss of human life. But after the destruction of mangroves when a tidal wave hit the same in 1991, thousands of people lost their lives. The mangroves of Bhiterkanika in Orissa could mitigate the effects of Super Cyclone of October 1999.

It is time to draw a balance sheet of the gains and losses of unsustainable market driven economy. The shrimp farming is only a $9 billion industry in Asia. The death toll on account of tsunami in Asia is over 150,000.