Restoring natural habitats in Myanmar a reconstruction priority, says IUCN

23 May 2008 | International news release

Gland, Switzerland, May 23, 2008 (IUCN) – IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) offers to share its broad environmental experience to help with the reconstruction efforts in Myanmar. A vital long-term environmental need is to restore coastal ecosystems, following the catastrophic damage caused by the recent cyclone.  

“While we, like the rest of the world, are worried about the pace of the relief effort, we also believe we have to take a longer view as the planning for reconstruction starts.” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of IUCN. “We believe that restoring healthy ecosystems, particularly mangroves, should be on top of the reconstruction priority list.”

Flooding in open Delta flood plains is inevitable, but the buffering effect of healthy ecosystems disappears when natural barriers such as mangroves, lagoons, coral reefs, beaches and strand forests are destroyed or degraded.

In order to avoid further problems later on, special attention should also be paid to environmental issues in the immediate relief phase, as disposal of debris and waste resulting from infrastructure reconstruction efforts can lead to more difficult and costly longer term environmental restoration. By approaching the reconstruction with due consideration for the natural environment, disasters such as this can be better mitigated in the future. IUCN strongly believes that restoring mangroves and other coastal ecosystems is an important investment to make for the future.

“Destruction of coastal systems, especially mangrove forests in Myanmar, left coastal areas exposed to the devastating force of the cyclone,” says Aban Kabraji, IUCN’s Regional Director for Asia . “Especially in river deltas, mangroves prevent waves from damaging the more productive land that are further inland from the sea. Restoring mangroves should be a priority for all involved."

IUCN and UNDP are lead partners in the regional Mangroves for the Future (MFF) initiative which promotes investment in coastal ecosystems to protect people when natural disasters strike and to ensure sustainable use of coastal resources in normal times. In addition, the Mangroves for the Future initiative, created in response to the 2004 tsunami, has already established a forum for dialogue among several coastal countries of the Indian Ocean. This network could be vital to supporting the longer term restoration and reconstruction efforts in Myanmar.

“Climate change and habitat destruction are making natural phenomena like cyclones and floods more frequent and severe,” says Marcia Kran, Head of Policy and Programmes, UNDP Regional Centre in Bangkok. “To avoid the catastrophic loss of lives and livelihoods we have witnessed in Myanmar, it is crucial that we restore and protect the coastal ecosystems that act as a natural barriers when tidal waves strike; healthy coastal ecosystems also provide other valuable goods and services essential to sustain livelihoods.”

UNDP has requested IUCN to advise on the rehabilitation of damaged coastal areas, and to provide guidance on environmental safeguards for post-disaster relief operations, in Myanmar. Working through the UN system, IUCN and UNDP in their capacity as MFF co-chairs together with the other MFF partners, bring a wealth of knowledge from the post-tsunami experience in addressing coastal ecosystem restoration needs, particularly with respect to the role of mangroves in providing buffers to future natural disasters.

IUCN is fully aware that the first priority must be to get emergency help to those still in need. Once this is done, however, the government and international aid agencies should give priority to restoring healthy mangroves forests in the Irrawaddy Delta. Investing in coastal ecosystems is fundamental to sustainable socio-economic development in the region, besides reducing the vulnerability of coastal people to extreme events such as cyclones.

Notes to editors:

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

Sarah Halls, Media Relations Officer, IUCN Global Communications, m +41 79 528 3486, e sarah.halls@iucn.org

About IUCN:

IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges by supporting scientific research; managing field projects all over the world; and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN, international conventions and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice.

IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network. IUCN is a democratic union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and some 10,000 volunteer scientists in more than 150 countries. IUCN’s work is supported by 1,100 professional staff in 62 countries and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. www.iucn.org

For more information on Mangroves for the Future go to www.mangrovesforthefuture.org