Contributing Monkie Sarah Backhouse
Published on June 5, 2008
photo by apes_abroad (copyleft cc)
With all the natural disasters pummeling the planet over the past few years, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Roland Emmerich’s 2004 “The Day After Tomorrow” for a documentary rather than a blockbuster. The May 2nd cyclone in Myanmar proved particularly devastating: 133,000 dead or missing and a staggering 2.4 million homeless.
It’s saddening to learn that the destruction of coastal mangroves around the Irrawaddy River delta over the past few decades, “amplified the flooding and worsened devastation” caused by cyclone Nargis, according to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization. As people moved closer to the coast, “the combination of new settlements and deforestation for fish ponds and farmland set the stage for the disaster”, said Jan Heino, the F.A.O.’s assistant director general for forestry. Since 1975, the mangrove forests of the Irrawaddy Delta have halved while wood harvesting has reduced its density.
photo by timmarec (copyleft cc)
“Healthy mangrove forests are particularly good at reducing the force of waves because of the resistance provided by stilt roots as well as the trees’ trunks and branches,” the report said. “Mangroves also trap and stabilize sediment and reduce the risk of shoreline erosion.” Without them, the people of Myanmar were exposed to the 3.5 meter high waves. With predictions of sea levels continuing to rise and storms becoming more intense and frequent, coastal areas will be at even greater risk of damage. To this end, the report discourages further coastal development and recommends the “maintenance of coastal vegetation as buffers” along with early warning systems, evacuation plans and storm shelters.
Although the humans are not solely to blame for the natural disasters themselves, it’s clear that our burgeoning population and the demand for resources that it brings, adds further stress to our fragile environment — leaving us to face the repercussions.