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Eco-damage severe and lasting

Thursday 6 January 2005

NEW DELHI: India’s tsunami-hit regions are showing up "severe" ecological damage, and some of it will stay.

This is based on a preliminary government assessment of mangroves, corals, coastal forests, wetlands, biodiversity, groundwater and geomorphologic features such as sand dunes and rock formations.

Eleven days into the sudden disaster, the Union Environment Ministry met on Wednesday evening with officials and scientists from ten institutes and organisations to decide on a strategy on what they could do to repair damage which would impact lives.

Teams aren’t rushing out anywhere but the scientists called in for the two-hour meeting are already working in some of the tsunami-hit areas like Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

"The preliminary information is that there is significant damage," said environment secretary Prodipto Ghosh.

The devastation is extensive, most so in the Andaman and Nicobar islands which bore the brunt of the death waves.

Framing an action plan to repair damage where it is possible is going to be a two-step process-what Ghosh calls a "rapid assessment" to identify damage and, thereafter, "a detailed assessment" through on-the-spot surveys.

"The first stage will be based largely on pre-tsunami and post tsunami satellite imagery and some ground truthing, rather than our running helter-skelter," said Ghosh. This will take two months.

Then, they will know where people are affected by such damage, where they can step in and do something and where they cannot. For instance, they can do nothing about changes to rock formations or sand dunes but they can perhaps do something about saline water seeping into groundwater or coastal forests. A rural development ministry assessment is that 176 habitations in TN are affected by saline water intrusion and the bill may shoot up to Rs 25 crore for this alone.

The institutions involved indicate the enormity and diversity of the tasks ahead.

These range from institutes with some expertise in ocean management and marine biology to earth science studies, the Forest, Zoological and Botanical Surveys, Central Water Commission, Central Pollution Control Board, Ahmedabad’s Space Application Centre and the coast guards.

See online : Times of India

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