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Vol. 17 No. 2 - April 2011

Ecodevelopment in the Context of Environmental Concerns

By: P. K. K. Nair, P. K. Shaji and T. Alexander

The painful tsunami episode of 26 December 2004 was the beginning of an awakening of people to protect the coasts all over the South East Asia, including India. The havoc brought about large scale destruction of lives and properties as a result of which a Disaster Management Authority has been set up by Government of India, to deal with both natural and accidental disasters and other unforeseen human sufferings, which we hope, will attend to future national calamities. However, looking at the disaster prone areas there is much to learn from the ecological settings, which are inbuilt mechanisms for protection and safety of the coastal ecosystems. The mangrove vegetation found along the estuarine regions of the coastal belt is characterised by salinity friendly life serving to arrest the force of sea waves to a great extent at the same time as its proliferous root system providing a protective zone for diverse aquatic life forms including prawns and fishes. These natural ecosystems when destroyed do affect the coastal stability, and it is contended that the total demolition of the mangrove vegetation to develop the Paradweep Port in Orissa left the port open to sea hazards. In fact, the rich mangrove vegetation of the western coast of India has been decimated due the pressure of habitation and incompatible developmental activities, coupled with uncontrolled use of the resource by the coastal inhabitants as firewood leaving the coast open to such natural hazards as tsunami and coastal erosion.

A study of the tsunami affected coastal strips of Arattupuzha and Alappad on the west coast of Kerala provided information on what survived and what did not survive the event. For example, the coconut palm is a survivor because of its spreading adventitious roots and tolerance to salinity while mango and jack fruit trees have dried out, apart from crops like plantain and minor vegetable crops of the homesteads. However, the overall destruction of life and properties has been very painful in terms of biodiversity loss and livelihood disturbances. The coastal area in this region was once rich in mangroves and mangrove associates like Calophyllum inophyllum (a potential species to yield biodiesel), which have been lost due to anthropogenic activities, and that needs to be restored and sustainably utilised. Over a period of time of 6 years since 2004 a natural revival has been building up, which can be fortified with green/shelter belt development not only for coastal protection and conservation but also for providing the local inhabitants with better livelihood support through sustainable management of plant resources and improvement of their living environment and occupation, with thrust on fishing.

The above sketch enhances the need for a thematic approach to eco-development conforming to the ecosystem settings, its resources/components and people’s aspirations. The living habitats are continuously changing in line with the agenda of national development. With the expanding urbanization process, there is a manifold increase in public and private amenities, leading to the increase in vehicular traffic, proliferation of habitations of all kinds and changing lifestyle, all contributing to increasing pollution and environmental degradation. India with its multiplicity of agro-climatic zones needs to be given a focal attention with regard to the local environmental resources and the pattern of occupation of people with a single minded approach for improving the local livelihood security.

It is, therefore, imperative that eco-development ought to be ecosystem specific with the aim of evolving solutions to overcome the local problems of livelihood on the one hand and to develop clean environment on the other hand. Tree planting and greenery development should be preceded by development of a data bank on indigenous and acclimatized species of locality, edaphic and climatic conditions, atmospheric pollution, lifestyle pattern and other aspects of human benefits followed by appropriate selection and planting of trees and other plants, which possess the desired attribute for pollution abatement, ecosystem protection, clean air development, aesthetics and socio-economic benefits.

Along with the existing technologies in the development agenda, the green belt/shelter belt development should be an integral component of industrial estates with thrust on pollution abatement, landscape improvement and income generation. The climate change, being perceived as the most challenging problem of hazards that may strike humanity, deserves an integrated approach in eco-development alone. The people should be educated to identify local environmental problems and to formulate appropriate solutions; in all of which an ecosystem approach is what is decisive. This information is of value to the scientists and policy makers to plan and implement appropriate programmes to the benefit of the nation. In fact, eco-development should evolve into a dedicated people’s movement, in the agenda of development.

Environmental Resources Research Centre (ERRC), P. B. No: 1230, P. O. Peroorkada, Thiruvananthapuram-695 005, E-mail: [email protected]

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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