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'Mangroves can act as shield against tsunami'

By G. Venkataramani

CHENNAI, DEC. 27. "Tsunami is a rare phenomenon. Though we cannot prevent the occurrence of such natural calamities, we should certainly prepare ourselves to mitigate the impact of the natural fury on the population inhabiting the coastal ecosystems. Our anticipatory research work to preserve mangrove ecosystems as the first line of defence against devastating tidal waves on the eastern coastline has proved very relevant today.

The dense mangrove forests stood like a wall to save coastal communities living behind them," said M.S. Swaminathan, Chairman, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Chennai.

The mangroves in Pitchavaram and Muthupet region acted like a shield and bore the brunt of the tsunami.

The impact was mitigated and lives and property of the communities inhabiting the region were saved.

"When we started the foundation 14 years ago, we initiated the anticipatory research programme — a two-pronged strategy — to meet the eventualities of sea level rise due to global warming. One is to conserve and regenerate coastal mangroves along the eastern coast of the country, and the second is transfer of salt-tolerant genes from the mangroves to selected crops grown in the coastal regions.

It is now found that wherever the mangroves have been regenerated, especially in the Orissa coast, the damage due to tsunami is minimal," he said.

Livelihood options

The MSSRF will soon be publishing a scientific document `Tsunami and mangroves' highlighting the need to conserve and rehabilitate mangroves as the frontline defence against tidal forces.

The foundation will also prescribe multiple and multi-level livelihood options for the communities inhabiting the mangrove ecosystem.

Alternative cropping patterns to provide household economic and nutrition security for the rural poor will also be developed, according to Prof. Swaminathan.

The foundation will also press into service public address systems and communication network with village knowledge centres to forewarn the coastal population.

All efforts will be made to further strengthen the knowledge centres and information dissemination strategies.

A core group of experts has been set up to prepare concrete action plans and coordinate the short-term and long-term relief measures for the affected communities in the coastal belts.

A voluntary relief fund is created, and it will be used to meet the immediate needs of the affected communities, according to Prof. Swaminathan.

The foundation held a condolence meeting for those who lost their lives due to the tsunami and resolved to help mitigate the sufferings.

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