Greening coastal belts will help mitigate disasters: Experts

A view of the damage casued by tidal waves and severe erosion in Visakhapatnam.— File Photo: K.R. Deepak  

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had been about 220 ppm (parts per million) about 11,000 years ago and 260 ppm about 8,000 years ago.

In 1950, it had shot up to 280 ppm and by 2012, it had reached 430 ppm.

It had taken about 10,000 years to record a rise of about 60 ppm and just 60 years to go up by 150 ppm. The reason: burning of fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emission.

The drastic rise in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has resulted in global warming. This in turn is causing climate change across the globe.

Coastal cities vulnerable

In such a scenario, cities, villages, and towns along the coast such as Visakhapatnam, Nellore, Chennai, Kakinada, Kochi, Mumbai, and Machilipatnam face the threat of frequent cyclones, tidal waves, floods, abnormal thunderstorms, and hurricanes.

This was the observation of the experts at a discussion on ‘Climate change, sustainable development goals and urban environment’ organised during the just-concluded BRICS Urbanisation Forum.

Though the experts pointed out that loss of life due to natural calamities had come down, economic losses had gone up drastically.

Most importantly, coastal cities, not only in India but also across the globe, face the threat of being gobbled up by the rising sea.

According to an expert, the average rise in the sea level in the last three decades along the coast, from the Sundarbans in West Bengal to the southern-most tip of the peninsula, has been about 1.09 mm.

Capacity building

“Coastal cities such as Visakhapatnam, Paradip, and Machilipatnam will be prone to more number of thunderstorms, flash floods, cyclones, and tidal surge.

We have to focus on capacity building, taking all stakeholders into consideration, to tackle any eventuality,” Director of National Institute of Urban Affairs Jagat Shah said during the discussion.

According to the experts, research is being undertaken to explore the traditional methods to reduce the extent of damage caused by natural disasters.

“South Asia has a history of over 8,000 years in adopting such methods and we are revisiting those practices so that we can add value to them and make best use of the same,” said Karikal Valaven, Principal Secretary, Urban Development, Andhra Pradesh.

According to another expert, the Sundarbans has about 60 native varieties of plant species that have the capacity to withstand estuarine conditions and saline inundation on account of tidal effects, and can face storm surge and strong winds.

“We can replicate such a traditional system to protect our Godavari and Krishna delta areas. Greening of the coastal belts is important for disaster mitigation. We have lost huge tracts of mangroves and that is one reason for the sea surge and soil erosion in Visakhapatnam,” said E.U.B. Reddi, a professor of environmental sciences in Andhra University.

In October 2014, when Visakhapatnam was struck by Hudhud, a category-4 cyclone with a wind speed of over 220 kmph, only palm trees along the coast withstood.

Two decades ago, the coast in most of the towns and cities, including Visakhapatnam, had been dotted with palm trees. Later, they were mercilessly axed to facilitate a concrete jungle.

Palm trees have the capacity to withstand wind speed of up to 350 km.

They act as a barrier, both for high-speed wind and water surge. We need to adopt such traditional methods to mitigate disasters, said Prof. Reddi.

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