Mangrove forests saved lives in Indian super cyclone in 1999

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Washington, April 15 (ANI): A new study of storm-related deaths from a super cyclone that hit the eastern coast of India in 1999 finds that villages shielded from the storm surge by mangrove forests experienced significantly fewer deaths than villages that were less protected.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Delhi and Duke University, analyzed deaths in 409 villages in the poor, mostly rural Kendrapada District of the Indian state of Orissa, just north of the cyclone's landfall.

Vincent conducted the analysis with Saudamini Das of the University of Delhi's Swami Shradanand College.

"Our analysis shows a clear inverse relationship between the number of deaths per village and the width of the mangroves located between those villages and the coast," said Jeffrey R. Vincent, Clarence F. Korstian Professor of Forest Economics and Management at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

"Taking other environmental and socioeconomic factors into account, villages with wider mangroves suffered significantly fewer deaths than ones with narrower or no mangroves," he added.

"We believe this is the first robust evidence that mangroves can protect coastal villages against certain types of natural disasters," he further added.

Mangroves are dense forests of trees and shrubs that grow in brackish, low-lying coastal swamps in the tropics and subtropics.

In 1944, mangroves covered nearly 31,000 hectares of land in Kendrapada District and the average village had 5.1 kilometers of mangroves between it and the coast. Since then, nearly half the area has been cleared, mostly for rice production.

Today, the average width of mangroves between the villages and the coast has shrunk to 1.2 kilometers.

The 1999 storm, which made landfall on Oct. 29, killed nearly 10,000 people, more than 70 percent of whom drowned in its surge.

Using statistical models, Das and Vincent predicted there would have been 1.72 additional deaths per village within 10 kilometers of the coast if the mangrove width had been reduced to zero.

"This is a measure of the life-saving impact of the mangroves that remained in 1999," Vincent said. "It implies that they cut the death toll by about two-thirds," he added. (ANI)

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