Coastal ecosystems for protection against storm surge
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Storm surges are the greatest natural coastal hazards that regularly afflict people of the east coast of India. Meteorological records show that wind speeds in them have crossed 250 km/hr and storm surges have attained heights up to 12 m. For example, surge waters penetrated 100 km inside the coastal area of West Bengal, 35 km in Orissa, 15 km in Andhra Pradesh and 16 km in Tamil Nadu. In addition to a recurring loss of life, financial loss in terms of livestock, property, agriculture and infrastructure in single catastrophe exceeded Rs. 2750 crore. Economic loss is thus prohibitive and hence unsustainable. This paper acknowledges the intrinsic protective value of coastal sand dunes, vegetation and wetlands as a functional natural defence in the wake of extreme events. Razing sand dunes has resulted in near-shore inundations as proved in West Bengal. Removal of coastal forests has amplified impacts due to heavy winds as noted in Orissa. Reclamation of coastal low-lands leads to blocking of antecedent drainage, causing persistent flooding over unusually long periods as observed in Andhra Pradesh. Adaptation against, rather than mitigation of, disasters should be the key in the management of hazard-prone coastal lowlands. Adequate setbacks, therefore, have to be demarcated from the shoreline and all constructions kept beyond a designated safe point. Human-induced modifications of the coast are the major causes due to which natural hazards culminate as disasters.
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