Executive summary

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Executive summary

The regional technical workshop on Coastal protection in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami: What role for forests and trees? was organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) under the auspices of the FAO Forestry Programme for Early Rehabilitation in Asian Tsunami Affected Countries, funded by the Government of Finland. The workshop was held from 28 to 31 August 2006, in Khao Lak, Thailand.

The main objective of the workshop was to contribute to improved coastal area planning, coastal forest management and disaster mitigation by increasing the knowledge and understanding of the role of trees and forests in protecting populations and assets from the most common and destructive natural hazards affecting coastal areas of Asia, namely cyclones, erosion, tsunamis and wind and salt spray.

The specific objectives of the workshop were:

Sixty-three participants, including government representatives from the eight tsunami-affected countries (Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand), experts from 15 other countries and delegates from national, regional and international organizations attended the workshop. All the participants agreed that the workshop provided a rare opportunity for multidisciplinary analysis of the coastal protection issue. Coastal engineers and oceanographers, forest ecologists and managers, disaster management specialists, coastal planners and social scientists had the opportunity to share their combined experience; the event was considered to be an important beginning or strengthening of collaborations between the different — but highly related — disciplines.

The experts concluded that forests and trees can act as bioshields for the protection of people and assets against tsunamis and other coastal hazards — but whether they are effective, and the degree of their effectiveness, depends on many variables. It is important to understand, however, that they do not provide effective protection against all hazards (for example extremely large tsunami waves, flooding from cyclones and certain types of coastal erosion). The degree of protection they offer depends on a number of variables, including the characteristics of the hazard itself (type, force, frequency), the features of the site and the characteristics of the bioshield (inter alia type of forest or tree species, density and height).

Care must be taken to avoid making generalizations and creating a false sense of security. In cases where bioshields are not a feasible option or sufficiently effective, provisions must be made for other forms of protection, including hard solutions and a hybrid of hard and “soft” solutions; evacuation may also be necessary. It has also been noted that the development of bioshields is not possible in all situations because of biological limitations, space constraints, incompatibility with priority land uses, prohibitive costs and so forth. It should be recognized that many years are required to establish and grow bioshields to a size and density that offers protection against coastal hazards. Once it has been decided that forests and trees should be used as mitigation measures for an area, during bioshield development planning, species for planting should be scientifically identified as some forest types and tree species cannot survive or thrive in areas exposed to specific coastal hazards — decreasing, or even reversing, the effectiveness of the protection.

In order to save as many lives as possible, the use of bioshields should be considered within the framework of disaster management strategies, which also include effective early warning systems and evacuation plans.

The participants highlighted the need to translate scientific knowledge into policy-relevant information for decision-makers and into technical guidelines and information for coastal resource managers. They also recommended that national agencies, the private sector and international donors should provide financial support for research, capacity strengthening and field implementation related to forest management for enhanced coastal protection. The experts and government representatives also observed that regional cooperation, juxtaposed by the use and publication of indigenous knowledge, are key elements for the success of the implementation of field projects related to coastal protection.

After a welcoming speech from Mr He Changchui, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, invited experts elaborated on scientific knowledge related to the role of mangroves and other coastal forests as protection against tsunamis, cyclones, wind and salt spray, as well as coastal erosion. A session on coastal planning and a synthesis of the current knowledge of the use of coastal forests and trees as mitigation measures against natural hazards provided an important contribution to the discussions. Case studies from eight countries in the region were also presented by national experts and representatives, highlighting the role of coastal forests in protecting lives and resources from different natural hazards in their own countries. (These are abstracted as “field study presentations” in this publication.)

Based on the presentations and discussions, the participants were then divided into break-out groups to discuss two topics:

  1. In the first session, the participants were divided into four break-out groups to discuss and develop a diagnostic tool for identifying the variables needed to assess the protective potential of forests and trees against tsunamis and other common natural hazards affecting the coasts of Asia.
  2. In the second session, the participants were divided into three break-out groups to clarify the current state-of-the art of the topic addressed by the workshop at the international level and in the Asian tsunami-affected countries, and to identify actions to improve the situation and generate recommendations for action.

The results of the diagnostic tool working groups are found in Part 2, while formulated conclusions and recommendations are reported in Part 3.

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