Representatives from partners, donors and NGOs
The world is still trying to grasp the enormity of the 26 December 2004 tsunami that devastated the coastal areas of the Asian countries around the Indian Ocean. The impact of this natural disaster on local populations was extremely severe in terms of death and injury. Livelihoods have been disrupted, assets lost, many have no jobs or homes, and consequently we should be prepared to see many social problems and out-migration. Well over a million people have been affected to varying degrees. The world has come together not only with expressions of grief and concern, but with speedy humanitarian assistance, both in kind and cash for the victims.
Appropriately, attention was first devoted to saving people, treating the injured and sick, making sure sufficient food and water supplies were available, providing temporary shelter, and reuniting surviving victims with their relatives. International and regional assistance agencies, including FAO, came to the fore to assist governments to undertake these emergency activities. In this respect, I wish to point out that within 24 hours of the disaster, FAO had mobilized teams of national and international experts to begin assessing the damage to the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors and to identify the assistance needed. Following the rapid assessments, FAO as a partner in the January United Nations Flash Appeal called for US$26.5 million to provide emergency aid to the coastal communities hit by the tsunami. We are beginning to see the positive results of these initial efforts – livable conditions are beginning to return in many of the affected areas.
Even while these emergency relief efforts are still ongoing, it is now time that we turn to the equally vital issues of the medium- and long-term work needed to rehabilitate the affected areas. This would include rebuilding the infrastructure, services, hospitals, civil and public agencies, etc. It is important that hospitals can treat patients, schools keep running, and civil society is functioning. More than that, it also means equipping farmers with agricultural equipment and seed, fishermen with boats and nets, and the carpenters with wood. FAO has joined governments and a host of other international and regional agencies to restore these livelihood activities to the tsunami affected communities.
Perhaps less obvious amongst the staggering needs for rebuilding people’s lives – but also vitally important – is the restoration of forests, trees, and other coastal vegetation. We’ve all heard numerous stories of how trees saved lives and of how mangroves blunted the force of the tsunami and possibly saved entire villages. Contrary views have also been expressed. These issues aside, there are many broader issues of livelihoods – including people’s heavy dependence on forests and trees in the affected coastal areas. Serious efforts are needed to restore the home gardens, tree crops, and the natural vegetation damaged or destroyed by the tsunami, in order to accelerate the recovery. In the surge for housing reconstruction, vast supplies of wood will be needed. If not managed appropriately, this demand could adversely affect the remaining forests irrevocably.
Tsunami-affected countries have expressed keen interest in replanting their coastal forest areas. Such huge reforestation programmes have to be undertaken with appropriate technology and in appropriate locations. If not, we may see massive failures and wasted resources. While trees and forests are critical in the coastal environment, we need to look beyond. Will we suffer the same consequences in a future tsunami? Are there better ways of planning human habitations and activities along the coasts that will be more favorable to both life and the environment? Highly critical for this group to consider is the question of effectively pooling our resources, information and technology to undertake such an enormous task. Equally important is the need for coordination and collaboration of our efforts.
It is therefore my pleasure to welcome you all to this regional workshop Rehabilitation of tsunami-affected forest ecosystems: strategies and new directions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This workshop is the second in a series of three workshops organized by the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific related to the tsunami rehabilitation. The first workshop focused on rehabilitation of fisheries and aquaculture in coastal communities of tsunami-affected countries. The third workshop will focus on the rehabilitation of salt-affected soils.
The overall goal of this workshop is to strengthen and enhance forestry-related rehabilitation efforts in the tsunami-affected areas. The immediate objectives include: (i) exchanging information and knowledge related to the impacts of tsunami on forest ecosystems; (ii) strengthening coordination and collaboration of national, regional and international agencies involved in forest rehabilitation and management of tsunami-affected areas; and (iii) developing a strategic framework for regional coordination and action on the rehabilitation of tsunami-affected forest ecosystems.
It gives me much pleasure to see participants from all the affected countries, and representatives from a large number of international and regional organizations at this workshop. This indeed is a reflection of the importance of this activity, and the need for a coordinated effort in rehabilitating the forest and tree ecosystem along the tsunami-affected coastal areas. The coastal forest ecosystem, with its important functions of livelihood support, environmental protection and biodiversity should receive our due attention. The task ahead of us is complex and challenging, and no single organization can deal with it effectively alone. FAO is ready and willing to work with partners to undertake the work that lies ahead.
I am confident that with our collective wisdom, expertise and joint mission we will be able to provide a firm footing to build this strategy for rehabilitation.
I wish you well in your endeavor and look forward to seeing the output of this workshop.
I hereby declare the workshop open.