Tsunami and forestry: Q&A with Susan Braatz
Susan Braatz of FAO's Forestry Department discusses the impact of the tsunami on forests and trees and priorities for rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in the forestry sector.
What has been the impact of the tsunami on forests in the affected countries?
Considerable damage was done to coastal trees and forests, including mangroves, but it may take some time before the full extent of the damage is known. FAO is working with local authorities and other organizations to try to get a more comprehensive picture of the damage to forests. We are also looking at the roles that coastal forests and trees played in protecting lives, land and infrastructure in the areas affected by the tsunami. This will provide valuable information for land use decisions during the rehabilitation and reconstruction phases.
What are the priorities for forestry?
Important issues of land and resource use are emerging now that countries are moving from emergency relief to rehabilitation and reconstruction and people are regaining their livelihoods. These include forest-related issues.
The priority is to capture the range of benefits of trees and forests to improve the livelihoods of the affected people now and in the future. Key benefits include providing forest products and income, improving environmental conditions and increasing coastal protection. Needed action could include rehabilitation of damaged forests, reforestation, and replanting of trees in home gardens and other agroforestry systems.
Some countries, including Sri Lanka and Indonesia, have called for the establishment of coastal greenbelts -- strips of forest land zoned or developed for the protection of coastlines against storms and other destructive events. It will be necessary to reconcile the needs for improved protection with existing patterns of land use, such as fish ponds, paddy fields, landing sites for boats and village lands as well as key habitats and critical ecosystems. Each village will need to find a balance between the protective and productive roles of forests and interactions between forests and other land uses, depending on the local socio-economic and environmental context. A main focus of rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts will be to facilitate participatory processes of land use planning.
What is FAO doing to balance the economic needs of local populations with environmental considerations?
FAO is assisting governments in national as well as provincial and district level reconstruction planning, but we're also working at village level to help identify local fisheries, agriculture and forestry needs. We are supporting actions in these three sectors within the context of integrated coastal area management, in which land use is considered across all sectors and as related to natural ecosystems and processes. Forestry issues can't be addressed in isolation from those in fisheries, agriculture, industry, environmental conservation, tourism and residential development.
The idea is to support sound resource and land use and to avoid recreating any unsustainable patterns that existed before the tsunami. We need to look at ways to integrate different production systems so that they are productive as well as environmentally sound. This is done by looking at local needs, land capacity and the functioning of natural ecosystems.
Can you give an example of this integration in practice?
Take mangrove forests, which are important for fisheries production. They provide spawning grounds and nutrients for fish and shellfish. Clearing of mangroves in the past in many of the affected countries has likely affected fisheries production and their role in coastal protection. So we need to explore ways of rehabilitating damaged mangroves, discouraging clearance of additional areas, and reintegrating mangroves into fisheries production systems. For example, there is scope in the north and eastern coasts of Aceh province, Indonesia, to plant mangroves on the edges of individual fish ponds and between pond complexes. And there are ways in which cultivation of fish and shellfish can be undertaken within mangrove areas without the need for conversion of these into ponds. Raft culture and floating cages for instance.
With the large volume of wood needed for reconstruction, what is being done to avoid putting undue pressure on remaining forests?
This is particularly a problem in Indonesia, where the tsunami damage in Aceh province is extensive, and the wood requirements for reconstruction are very large. Wood from legal sources in Aceh is limited, and cutting of the local forest resources is difficult to control. There has been considerable national and international concern expressed over the pressure put on forests in the province.
The Government of Indonesia is aware of the problem and is taking measures to try to reduce the risk of illegal logging in Aceh, while encouraging the use of nationally sourced wood from legal sources, including those in other provinces, for reconstruction. In addition, various organizations have developed designs for houses that require less wood than traditional houses. Some organizations are urging other countries to donate wood for reconstruction.
What is FAO doing in this area?
In April, FAO carried out a preliminary study of the types and quantity of wood needed for reconstruction in Aceh. It is in the process of further refining these estimates. On the supply side, FAO has identified various sources of wood in Indonesia that could be used for reconstruction -- for example, from holders of logging permits, trees outside forests, trees from estate crops such as rubberwood, and salvage wood. In June, FAO, in conjunction with the Government of Indonesia, industry groups and non-governmental organizations, started to develop wood procurement guidelines, technical specifications for wood products and lists of suppliers of wood from legal sources in Indonesia. It will also provide procurement guidelines and specifications for wood sourced elsewhere. This will assist those who are engaged in reconstruction of housing and other infrastructure in Aceh province.
23 June 2005
Information Officer, FAO
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