Mangroves help protect lives in storms, says study

April 15th, 2009 - 1:51 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, April 15 (IANS) Mangrove forests protected lives in the eastern coast of India from a super cyclone when it hit the area in 1999, a study by Delhi university researchers has confirmed.
The 1999 storm, which hit the coast Oct 29, killed nearly 10,000 people, more than 70 percent of whom drowned in its surge.

But the villages shielded from the surge experienced significantly fewer deaths than villages that were less protected, the study found.

Mangroves are dense forests that grow in brackish, low-lying coastal swamps in the tropics and subtropics.

In 1944, mangroves covered nearly 31,000 hectares of land in Kendrapada district in Orissa and the average village had 5.1 km of mangroves between it and the coast.

Since then, nearly half the area has been cleared, mostly for rice production. Today, the average width of mangroves between the villages and the coast has shrunk to 1.2 km.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Delhi and Duke University in the US, analysed deaths in 409 villages in the poor, mostly rural Kendrapada district of Orissa, just north of the cyclone’s landfall.

“Our analysis shows a clear inverse relationship between the number of deaths per village and the width of the mangroves located between those villages and the coast,” said Jeffrey R. Vincent, professor of forest economics and management at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

“Taking other environmental and socioeconomic factors into account, villages with wider mangroves suffered significantly fewer deaths than ones with narrower or no mangroves,” Vincent said.

“We believe this is the first robust evidence that mangroves can protect coastal villages against certain types of natural disasters.”

Vincent conducted the analysis with Saudamini Das of the University of Delhi’s Swami

Shradhanand College, said a Duke release.

Their findings appear in this week’s online early edition of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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