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Shelter belt plantations take on killer waves

By S. Ganesan

TIRUCHI, JAN. 1 .While Sunday's tsunami has swept away everything on its way along the Nagapattinam coast, shelter belt plantations were believed to have acted as a barrier and lessened the impact of the giant waves in a few pockets wherever the trees matured.

The Forest department raised more than 500 hectares of Casuarina equisetifolia plantations along the coastal tract from Kodiampalayam to Vedaranyam. The plantations, raised with Central and State Government funds, were intended as wind and water breaks to prevent damage on the seashores from cyclonic storms.

Department officials claimed that the utility of the plantation, raised since 1999 in Nagapattinam district, was established now, as the damage was relatively low at places where the trees grew to a good height. While a major portion of the eight-km-long Nagapattinam-Nagore rail line has been washed away completely, a few stretches running along mature shelter-belt plantations have escaped displacement, the officials said. In other places, the rail line was totally uprooted.

Human casualties were also found to be relatively few in villages, which lay behind the plantations as the trees warded off the force of the waves. Only two casualties have been reported at Chokkanadar Kovil, west of one of the shelter belt plantations in between Nagore and Nagapattinam, according to the Nagapattinam Wildlife Warden, A.D.Baruah.

Even some tiled houses behind the plantations escaped any major damage.

The Nagapattinam, Thanjavur and Pudukottai forest divisions were involved in raising the plantations in specific blocks along the coastline in the district. The earliest plantations have now matured and grown to an average height of about 20 feet. However, saplings planted during 2003 and 2004 have perished under the onslaught of the waves.

Villagers' demand

"It is clear that matured plantations have reduced the force of the killer wave and helped in saving quite a few lives and property," Mr. Baruah told The Hindu after a preliminary impact assessment study of the shelterbelts at a few places. Members of the Village Forest Committees, promoted as part of the shelter belt programme, were now urging the department to raise more such plantations in their villages, he said.

"It is already well established that shelter belt plantations could serve as an effective natural barrier, especially in Orissa. It has now been reinforced in Tamil Nadu after the tsunami," said A.V. Venkatachalam, Divisional Forest Officer (Social Forestry), Pudukottai.

But the area covered so far was rather limited and in patches, considering the vast coastline of the State. The department is said to be contemplating raising more shelter belt plantations for a width of 150-200 metres along the coastline.

However, environmentalists say raising shelter belt plantations extensively will require strict enforcement of the Coastal Regulation Zone norms and prevention of encroachments on the seashore.

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