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Myanmar mangroves must be replanted to bolster ecosystem: IUCN

by Staff Writers
Geneva (AFP) May 23, 2008
Mangroves and other natural barriers must be urgently restored in cyclone-stricken Myanmar to bolster flood defences against any future catastrophe, environmental group IUCN warned Friday.

"Destruction of coastal systems, especially mangrove forests in Myanmar, left coastal areas exposed in the devastating force of the cyclone," said Aban Kabraji, Asian regional director for the Switzerland-based IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).

"Especially in the 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," she said in a statement.

Her comments echoed those of Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to which military-ruled Myanmar belongs.

"Why the impact is so severe is because of the increase of the population," Pitsuwan said in a speech in Singapore on May 6.

This has led to an "encroachment into the mangrove forests which used to serve as buffer between the rising tide, between big waves and storms and the residential area," he said.

Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar on May 2-3, has left at least 133,000 people dead or missing and around 2.5 million more in need of immediate aid.

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

The group said it is "fully aware that the first priority must be to get emergency help to those in need."

"Once this is done, however, the government and international aid agencies should give priority to restoring healthy mangrove forests in the Irrawaddy Delta."

The Irrawaddy is one of the most heavily silted rivers in the world because of deforestation and intensive agriculture along its banks, the ASEAN Regional Centre for Biodiversity Conservation said on its website.

It said land outside the reserved forests has been converted for agricultural use and mangrove forests within the reserve "are now disappearing at a rapid rate."

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Malaysia to help Indonesia curb forest fires
Putrajaya, Malaysia (AFP) May 23, 2008
Malaysia will help Indonesian farmers practice safer farming methods to help curb forest fires blamed for the choking haze which shrouds the region annually, the environment minister said Friday.

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