Managing Extreme Natural Disasters in Coastal Areas (Part 5) by M S Swaminathan

This blog is from the series Science and Sustainable Food Security- Selected Papers of Prof. M S Swaminathan. This particular paper is written by P. C. Kesavan AND M. S. Swaminathan and published on Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

In the previous blogs, we discussed the following:

1. Perspectives on extreme natural disasters

2. Vulnerability to disasters 

3. Vicious spiral between poverty, environmental degradation and natural disasters

4. How to mainstream disaster management into sustainable development

In this blog, we will continue to look at the factors that co-relate to natural disasters and sustainable ways to manage them.

(e) Genetic shields in coastal areas vulnerable to seawater inundation

  • In his Anniversary Address (2004), Lord May refers to the rapidly growing water shortage as a global problem that could lead to armed conflicts among neighbouring countries that share rivers, etc.
  •  He also suggested appropriate use of the recombinant DNA technology to produce crops that are drought-resistant, and/or salt-tolerant, thus moving in the direction of producing crops that are adapted to their environment (figure 11).
  • Based on the suggestion of Prof. M.S. Swaminathan as early as 1988 at a meeting on climate change in Kyoto, Japan, the scientists at the MSSRF identified several salt-tolerant genes from the mangrove species, A vicennia marina (Mehta et al. 2005) and transferred these through the recombinant DNA technology to rice. 
  • It is an important crop in the coastal areas, which are threatened by increasing sea level, and frequent storms and cyclones. The salinity-resistant rice developed with the help of genes transferred from unrelated mangrove species (A. marina) also emphasizes the urgent need to prevent loss of valuable genes through conservation and enhancement of biodiversity in developing countries. 
  • The transgenic rice tolerates salinity up to 150 mM. The development of transgenic salt-tolerant rice (Prashant & Parida 2005) is scientifically fascinating and socially relevant. MSSRF is currently engaged in transferring drought-resistant genes from Prosopis julifiora, a common desert tree, to water-thirsty rice. Such genetic shielding of crop plants against salinity, submergence and drought would sustain the coastal agriculture and the livelihoods of millions of resource-poor farming families, even if the frequencies and intensities of extreme hydro-meteorological disasters increase.
  • Recombinant DNA technology provides an opportunity to design and develop genetic shields against adverse changes in temperature, precipitation and sea level as a result of global warming.

(I) Guiding principles for integrated coastal zone management

  • For integrating disaster management strategies with sustainable development, developing countries need to adhere to certain guidelines. 
  • An Expert Committee chaired by Prof. M. S. Swaminathan has proposed 12 basic guiding principles for the sustainable and scientific management of the coastal zone (Swaminathan 2005a,b). 
  • The first and the foremost one is that ecological security, cultural security, livelihood security and national security should be the cornerstones of an integrated coastal zone management policy. 
  • The coastal zone would include the area from territorial limits (12 nautical miles), including its sea bed, to the administrative boundaries or the biological boundaries demarcated on the landward side of the sea coast. The coastal zone management should also include the island water bodies influenced by tidal action and the land area along with such water bodies. 
  • The precautionary approach should be used where there are potential threats of serious or irreversible damage to ecologically critical coastal systems and to living aquatic resources.
  • Scientific uncertainty should not be used as an excuse for the unsustainable exploitation of coastal resources-both living and non-living. 
  • Ecological economics should underpin economic activities, so that present-day interests and future prospects are not antagonistic. 
  • Significant biological, cultural and natural assets should be considered incomparable, invaluable and irreplaceable and should receive overriding priority in the allocation of resources for coastal area protection and conservation.

5. Tsunami devastation of Andaman and Nicobar Islands: converting calamities into opportunities

(a) Nature of devastation

  • According to Government of India reports (see the document of United Nations Country Team India, March 2005 on 'Recovery Framework in Support of Government of India' for a Post-tsunami Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Programme), 10,749 people in India lost their lives, and 5640 persons were still missing, after the tsunami of 26 December 2004. 
  • Approximately 7000 people escaped with injuries (Tsunami Rehabilitation Programme Planning Commission Government of India March 2005)
  • The island of Andaman and Nicobar archipelago consists of 572 emerald islands, islets and rocks. It stretches approximately 750 km from the northernmost Andaman to the Southernmost Indira point in Great Nicobar. Located in the Bay of Bengal, these islands stretch from approximately 6 to 14° north latitude and approximately 92 to 94° east longitude.
  • The Sumatra-Andaman earthquake (M 9.3) on 26 December 2004 released 4.3 X 1018 J, equivalent to the energy of a 100 Gton bomb. Shifts in the sea floor displaced more than 30 km3 of seawater (Bilham 2005), generating powerful tsunami waves. 
  • The rupture process was initially slow, but picked up speed at approximately 2.5 km S-1 and proceeded north northwest approximately 1200-1300 km along the Andaman trough (Ammon et at. 2005).
  • From the point of rehabilitation and preparation of an action plan to integrate disaster management with sustainable development, the geological and geomorphological changes induced by the earthquake and tsunami need to be taken into account. 
  • Denyer (2005) has reported that the Andaman and Nicobar Islands appear to have shifted southwest by around 4 m (13 feet), according to GPS data. 
  • The northernmost inhabited island Diglipur in the north Andamans has risen by 0.5-0.8 m (1.7-2.6 feet), whereas the southernmost Indira point (Great Nicobar) has sunk by approximately 1.4-1.8 m (4.6-5.9 feet). 
  • Many of the islands suffered extensive damage, as is shown for the Katchal islands before (figure 12a) and after the tsunami (figure 12b).

( b) Integrating disaster management with sustainable development of post-tsunami Andaman and Nicobar island archipelago

  • The extensive geographic and geological changes caused by the extreme natural disaster have necessitated a new outlook and action plan for the Andaman and Nicobar islands. 
  • The past unsustainable practices should be brought to an end so that a new era, in which humans and nature are in a harmonious and mutually reinforcing relationship, can begin.
  • Keeping all these in view, the MSSRF has recommended locale-specific, sustainable solutions. The main focus is to integrate ecological security with livelihood security largely based on forestry and fisheries and put in place rural knowledge centres with the internet and GIS for early warning and disaster mitigation. The blueprint for integrating disaster management into sustainable development was presented by Swaminathan (2005b).
  • The agriculture recommended is organic agriculture with low input, low volume and high-value crops. 
  • The first and foremost is the erection of bioshield or the shelterbelt with mangrove or non-mangrove tree species based on ecological, edaphic and the hydrological conditions. After several rows of these, the other salt-tolerant, and economically useful species (e.g. coconut, pandanus, bamboo, canes, cashewnut, arecanut, etc.) which are all capable of reducing the velocity of cyclones, tsunamis, and the harmful effects of seawater rise due to global warming, should be planted. 
  • In between the rows of coconut or areca nut trees, spices (especially pepper, clove and nutmeg) can be grown organically as intercrop. This approach will effectively protect lives and enhance livelihoods.
  • The forest cover of Andaman and Nicobar islands is approximately 86%; the biodiversity is rich, and it includes a few unique fauna and flora which are endemic. 
  • Particular care needs to be taken to protect the uniquely rich biodiversity not only from human encroachment (i.e. subsistence farming with low-value grain crops, polluting industries, etc.)

The blog on Managing Extreme Natural Disasters in Coastal Areas (Part 5) by M S Swaminathan pertains to UPSC papers Gs 2 hunger and malnutrition, GS 3 Agriculture and Food security. Don’t forget to subscribe so that you never miss out on such important and interesting topics. Check out our previous blogs on various topics here.

Blog Post written by:
Anurag Trivedi
UPSC Mentor