Beyond the horrific loss of human life, the recent Indian Ocean tsunami extensively damaged Indonesia's coastal environment, causing $675 million in losses to natural habitats and important ecosystem functions, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported today.
In Aceh and North Sumatra, 25,000 hectares (ha) of mangroves, some 32,000 ha of previously existing coral reefs, and 120 ha of seegrass beds have been damaged, according to a new report which features key contributions from UNEP. The economic loss is valued at $118.2 million, $332.4 million and $2.3 million, respectively.
“These latest findings from just one of the affected countries show that there have been significant consequences for the environment and for the livelihoods of local people as a result of the tsunami,” said UNEP chief Klaus Toepfer.
While acknowledging that the terrible human toll of the tsunami must be addressed first, he said, “the recovery and reconstruction process underway must also invest in the environmental capital of natural resources, the forests, mangroves and coral reefs that are nature's buffer to such disasters and their consequences.”
UNEP is currently working in the region in response to emerging needs caused by the disaster. Indonesia has asked the agency to establish an environmental crisis centre. Maldives has requested emergency waste management assistance and impact studies on coral reefs and livelihoods. Sri Lanka and Thailand are seeking UNEP's help in conducting environmental impact assessments.
Meanwhile, in Kobe, Japan, delegates at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction are discussing the central role of a healthy environment in long-term disaster risk reduction.
Welcoming the good progress made at that meeting, Mr. Toepfer said it was now understood that environmental issues must be fully integrated in disaster preparation and response.
“There is now wide acceptance that environmental degradation and depletion of natural buffers increases risks for, and impacts from, natural and man-made disasters,” he said. “Now we need action, targets and a firm timetable of implementation.”