Sunday, May 01, 2011

Securing the coastline

From: Business Standard

With a sizeable part of India’s coastline being only marginally higher than the mean sea level, vast tracts of coastal India remain vulnerable to any abnormal fury of the seas. That is why the tsunami of December 2004 took its toll in many parts of coastal India. The ferocious tsunami that hit Japan recently is a reminder of the continued vulnerability of coastal India, including major urban centres like Mumbai, Chennai, Kochi, Surat, Mangalore, Panaji, Vizag and so on, to nature’s fury. It is, therefore, only appropriate that the Union environment ministry has begun mapping and demarcating coastal areas that run a major risk of devastation owing to tides, cyclones and even the feared rise in the sea level owing to climate change. After delineating such susceptible areas with the help of stereo digital aerial photography, land markers are proposed to be put up to indicate the flood lines. Apart from digging out past 40 years’ data related to maritime disasters, this exercise is also aimed at predicting potential erosion that might take place over the next 100 years due to tidal waves and other ocean-related factors. This initiative would be useful if it helps prepare the government and people to deal with natural disasters, including tsunamis. Hopefully, it will also spur result-oriented action on impact mitigation.

India urgently needs such livelihood security strategies for coastal areas since there has been an increase in the population dependent on coastal maritime economy. Unlike the global trend of people moving away from seashores to inland economies, in India fisherfolk and others living along the coastline have moved even closer to the coast — all the more why the identification of hazard-prone coastal areas is more important for India. Several methods are available for protecting habitations and infrastructure in the vicinity of the coasts against turbulent oceans. These include wave breakers and other kinds of civic-engineering works like erection of sea walls, besides environment-friendly wind and tide moderators. The civic works have been tried out in many parts of the world but only on a limited scale, chiefly to guard urban clusters. However, seafaring fishing communities are quite wary of sea walls and other civic-engineering structures since these tend to pose hardships in their routine work. On the other hand, belts of coastal plants, notably those of region-specific trees, shrubs, deep-rooted grasses and even mangroves, usually called bio-fences, have more often proved effective. These help conserve shore-zone environment by checking coastal erosion and dampen the ferocity of tidal waves to lessen their adverse impact. Natural mangroves alongside seashores serve as spawning grounds and shelters for several useful marine fauna, including lobsters, shrimp and fish. Coastal green cover did play a role in protecting man and nature during the 2004 tsunami in India and during recent storms along the coast. India’s coastal zone regulation should take note of this evidence and incorporate the lessons drawn into public policy on coastal development.