Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to welcome you, on behalf of the Regional Office of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, to this important regional technical workshop on “Coastal protection in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami: what role for forests and trees?”
The Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004 highlighted the need for protection and sound management of coastal environments. Following the tsunami, the role of mangroves and other forests and trees as protective barriers received considerable attention in the press and in academic circles. Observations and anecdotal reports indicated that intact and extensive areas of coastal forests reduced the loss of life and assets from the tsunami. However, the picture is not that simple. The effectiveness of forests and trees in coastal protection against different hazards depends on several factors, including the nature of the hazard and the characteristics of the vegetation. These factors must be well understood if efforts to improve coastal protection through forest management are to be successful.
The need for synthesis of existing information and for more scientific studies and rigorous assessments of the protective roles of coastal forests and trees has been highlighted in several meetings, including the FAO-supported “Regional Coordination Workshop on Rehabilitation of Tsunami-Affected Forest Ecosystems: Strategies and New Directions”, held in Bangkok from 7 to 8 March 2005.
The tsunami has cast much needed light on coastal forests. I believe it is safe to say that the benefits of these resources have been undervalued by many, if not most, decision-makers and planners, and even natural resource managers. This has contributed to neglect of these resources. FAO’s Forest Resources Assessment 2005 reports that the area of mangroves worldwide decreased by about 20 percent between 1980 and 2005. Although the rate of loss appears to be slowing – from about 1 percent per year in the 1980s, to about 0.7 percent per year in the 2000 to 2005 period – the continued decrease in mangroves represents a loss of important goods and environmental services. There are no global figures – and in most cases no country figures – on other types of coastal forests and trees. These resources have been even more glaringly overlooked than mangroves. The attention the tsunami has drawn to coastal forests offers a unique opportunity to increase awareness of their values and the consequences of their loss.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thanks to the generous contribution of the Government of Finland, the FAO-executed project “Forestry Programme for Early Rehabilitation in Asian Tsunami Affected Countries”, has been working since mid-2005, under the dynamic leadership of Ms. Susan Braatz, Programme Coordinator in cooperation with a wide range of partners, to support coastal forest rehabilitation in tsunami-affected areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. This project has also allowed FAO to promote sharing of information within the region on coastal forests and to organize this workshop. Next month, the project will support two more workshops related to rehabilitation in Asian tsunami-affected countries. The first, which will take place on 26 September, is on coastal forest rehabilitation and management. The second, from 27 to 29 September, is on coastal area planning and management. Both will be held in Bangkok.
FAO supports an active programme for tsunami rehabilitation in the forestry, agricultural and fisheries sectors through 75 projects, on-going or completed, with a combined worth of $65 million. We are working hard to foster coordination across these sectors and to address cross-sectoral issues in tsunami rehabilitation efforts in the affected countries.
The goal of the workshop this week is to increase knowledge and understanding of the role of forests and trees in protecting coastal populations and assets from natural hazards threatening Asian coastal areas.
As tsunami-affected countries move from emergency response into long-term rehabilitation, it is important that the role of coastal forests and trees in protecting lives and assets in coastal area, as well as in providing other environmental services and various products, is fully taken into account. We hope that the workshop findings will contribute to improved rehabilitation efforts in the tsunami-affected countries. Beyond that, we anticipate that lessons learned will be brought to bear on improved coastal area management in other areas.
I wish you fruitful exchange of ideas and information this week and successful workshop outcomes. I hereby declare the workshop open.