Tsunami reconstruction efforts urged to remain sustainable

Governments are being urged to maintain environmentally sustainable principles in the efforts to support and rebuild the communities devastated by the tsunami disaster.

WWF, the global conservation organisation, has made the call as a UN conference on the vulnerability of small island developing states gets underway in Mauritius.

The conservation group points out that, as reconstruction efforts get underway, agencies should capitalise on natural defence mechanisms, appropriate coastal zone planning, rehabilitation of habitats, and restoration of sustainable livelihoods.

“Healthy ecosystems can save lives,” said Isabelle Louis, Director of the WWF Asia Pacific Programme. “Places that had healthy coral reefs and intact mangroves, which act as natural buffers, were less badly hit by the tsunami than those where the reefs had been damaged and mangroves ripped out and replaced by prawn farms and poorly planned beachfront hotels.”

The group gives the example of the Maldives, where experts believe the damage could have been much worse if the government’s policy of protecting the network of coral reefs that shield the islands from the open sea had not been so diligent.

It recommends that coastal developments are, in the future, not built within a safety zone from the high tide mark. In addition, coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs, mangroves, marshes and forests that buffer the impact of tsunamis should be appropriately rehabilitated and restored.

“Poorly planned coastal development has compounded the impact of the tsunami,” said Mubariq Ahmad, head of WWF Indonesia. “It is vital that we don’t make the mistakes of the past. We need to rebuild in a sustainable and safe way.”

In the short term the group say it is imperative that the fisheries sector is reconstructed responsibly as it is the primary source of livelihood for the thousands of communities affected. It warns that, if devastated communities are not adequately resourced to regain immediate access to fishing, there is a real risk that opportunistic fishing fleets will move into the region, further compounding the problem.

In addition, despite the need for emergency housing, WWF is calling for all timber used in long-term reconstruction efforts to be harvested from responsibly managed forests as indiscriminate logging can lead to landslides and flooding.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie