The Greenbelt Reports
Asia’s Greenbelts are under siege everywhere!
After the Asian tsunami of December 2004 hit coastal areas of South and Southeast Asia, relief workers and divers reported how areas with mangrove forests, sand dunes or coral reefs had suffered considerably less damage: fewer lives were lost and less property was damaged.
Scientists and environmentalists had pointed this out for years: coastal vegetation and reefs provide a natural defence against the sea’s ravages: they cannot hold back tsunamis or cyclones, but they reduce impact. This is known as the ‘greenbelt effect’.
Unfortunately, this realization comes a bit too late for many coastal locations in Asia. For decades, coastal greenbelts have been degraded or destroyed by population pressures, poverty and economic development. For example, mangroves have been cleared on many Asian coasts and wetlands to set up shrimp farms or tourist hotels. In five countries that were hardest hit by the tsunami, some 1.5 million hectares were lost between 1980 and 2000 – a quarter of the region’s total mangrove cover.
Mitigating disaster impacts is not the only service of greenbelts. As sea levels rise and extreme weather events intensify due to global warming, greenbelts will play an important role in helping coastal countries and communities to adapt.