News & Politics

Environmental Destruction Adds to Devastation in Myanmar

It turns out mangroves are really, really important.
While the blogosphere is beating up Al Gore over alleged comments on NPR linking cyclones (and the increasing frequency and severity of storms) to global warming, one thing is certain: environmental factors did play a role in the devastation in Myanmar.

As the BBC reported:
Destruction of mangrove forests in Burma left coastal areas exposed to the devastating force of the weekend's cyclone, a top politician suggests. ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said coastal developments had resulted in mangroves, which act as a natural defence against storms, being lost. A study of the 2004 Asian tsunami found that areas near healthy mangroves suffered less damage and fewer deaths. Mr Surin, speaking at a high-level meeting of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore, said the combination of more people living in coastal areas and the loss of mangroves had exacerbated the tragedy.
The story further explains that mangroves are "bio-guards" and were responsible for helping to protect Sri Lankan villagers during the December 2005 tsunami. "While two people died in the settlement with dense mangrove and scrub forest, up to 6,000 people lost their lives in a nearby village without similar vegetation," the article says.

It turns out, we are pretty good at getting rid of mangrove forests -- about 3.6 million hectares are gone since 1980. The cause? Apparently it is new development pressures from tourism and rising population as well as the shrimp and fish farming industry.

So what do we do now? Here's a way to help long-term community-led reconstruction.
Tara Lohan is a managing editor at AlterNet.
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