NEW DELHI: With an increase in extreme weather related events along the coastal states, an expert panel of the Union Environment Ministry suggested that mangrove forests can lessen the devastation amid rising sea levels near coastal areas.
Talking about the the clearance for a National Highway project, that requires cutting of mangrove forests in Kerala, the expert committee related to the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) observed that the project proponent shall make all efforts to reduce the cuttings and shall ensure that three times the mangroves affected shall be regenerated in consultation with the concerned agency in the state government.
The United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) last month issued new guidelines on Mangrove Ecosystem Restoration for the Western Indian Ocean Region. It says that mangrove forests are one of the most powerful nature-based solutions to tackle climate change. But with 67 per cent of mangroves lost or degraded and an additional 1 per cent being lost every year, mangroves are at a risk of being destroyed altogether.
“Without mangroves, 39 per cent more people would be flooded annually and the damage would increase by more than 16 per cent and USD 82 billion. Mangroves protect shorelines from eroding and shield communities from floods, hurricanes, and storms, a more important service ever since the continuous rise in sea levels. Restoring mangroves can make communities more resilient to environmental changes and the economic shocks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” it added.
The Committee also observed that in Maharashtra, a mangrove conservation cell administered by the Forest Department is effectively functioning and such similar model can also be adopted by other coastal state governments.
“The Committee desired that the matter can be looked into by the Ministry and in the interest of mangrove conservation, which plays a major role specially during extreme events in coastal areas, the coastal state governments/UT administration may be requested to develop such dedicated mangrove conservation efforts,” said the committee in its recent meeting.
As per the India State of Forest Report 2019, the current assessment shows that mangrove cover in the country is 4,975 sq km, which is 0.15 per cent of the country's total geographical area.
West Bengal has the highest mangrove cover of 2,112 sq km followed by Gujarat having 1,177 sq km and the Andmans having 616 sq km.