Extreme natural hazards, particularly the hydro-meteorological disasters, are emerging as a cause of major concern in the coastal regions of India and a few other developing countries. These have become more frequent in the recent past, and are taking a heavy toll of life and livelihoods. Low level of technology development in the rural areas together with social, economic and gender inequities enhance the vulnerability of the largely illiterate, unskilled, and resource-poor fishing, farming and landless labour communities. Their resilience to bounce back to pre-disaster level of normality is highly limited. For the planet Earth at crossroads, the imminent threat, however, is from a vicious spiral among environmental degradation, poverty and climate change-related natural disasters interacting in a mutually reinforcing manner. These, in turn, retard sustainable development, and also wipe out any small gains made thereof. To counter this unacceptable trend, the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation has developed a biovillage paradigm and rural knowledge centres for ecotechnological and knowledge empowerment of the coastal communities at risk. Frontier science and technologies blended with traditional knowledge and ecological prudence result in ecotechnologies with pro-nature, pro-poor and pro-women orientation. The rural communities are given training and helped to develop capacity to adopt ecotechnologies for market-driven eco-enterprises. The modern information and communication-based rural knowledge centres largely operated by trained semi-literate young women provide time- and locale-specific information on weather, crop and animal husbandry, market trends and prices for local communities, healthcare, transport, education, etc. to the local communities. The ecotechnologies and time- and locale-specific information content development are need-based and chosen in a ‘bottom-up’ manner. The use of recombinant DNA technology for genetic shielding of agricultural crops for coastal regions against abiotic stress (induced by the water- and weather-related natural disasters), strengthens the foundations of sustainable agriculture undertaken by the resource-poor small farm families.
1. Perspectives on extreme natural disasters
Life on planet Earth is accustomed to encounters with natural disasters. An astro-physical event (i.e. impact of a meteorite on Earth) approximately 65 Myr ago is said to have wiped out dinosaurs and many other species. However, such astro-physical hazards are very rare. Geophysical hazards (i.e. earthquakes, volcanic eruptions) originate from within the Earth's interior and are common. Powerful earthquakes resulting in vertical displacement of the tectonic plates at the bottom of the sea can produce destructive tsunami waves as happened on 26 December 2004 (Bilham 2005, Mishra & Rajasekhar 2005). The hydro-meteorological hazards consist of tropical cyclones, landslides, floods and droughts. In the 1990s, more than 90% of those killed in natural disasters lost their lives in hydro-meteorological events (mainly droughts, floods and wind storms, GEO-3). While earthquakes accounted for 30% of the estimated risk, they caused just 9% of all fatalities due to natural disasters. In contrast, hunger caused by famines worldwide killed 42% of people in the affected regions, but accounted for just 4% of damage over the past decade (GEO-3; IFRC 2001). Further, the number of geophysical disasters has remained fairly steady during the past two decades (1980s and 1990s), but the number of hydro-meteorological disasters has increased substantially (GEO-3). Emerging events such as melting of ice in the Polar Regions and the Himalayas, rise in sea level and increasing intensity and frequency of floods, hurricanes and typhoons suggest that global warming is influencing climate change. Experts at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of USA have recently announced that the floating cap of sea ice on the Arctic Ocean shrank during summer, 2005 to its smallest size in a century (Revkin 2005). Trenberth (2005) argues that higher sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and increased water vapour in the lower atmosphere—caused by global warming—are to blame for the past decade's intense storms. Recently, there were newspaper reports associating the hurricanes ‘Katrina’ and ‘Rita’ in August and September 2005, respectively, which devastated New Orleans and neighbouring towns in Texas, USA, with global warming. Emanuel (2005) reports that global warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical destructive potential. He also points out that with an ever increasing coastal population, a substantial increase may occur in hurricane-related losses in the twenty-first century. Growing anthropogenic pressures are exacerbating the risks.
A scientific consensus on the potential impact of climate change is yet to emerge, although there is agreement that anthropogenic factors are influencing global climate systems. Against this background, the declaration by Lord May of Oxford, President of the Royal Society, UK, that ‘the world leaders can no longer use uncertainty about aspects of climate change as an excuse for not taking urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions’ is quite significant. It is indeed becoming increasingly clear that human-associated climate change is real. The Anniversary Address (2004) by the President of the Royal Society dealt in part with climate change (Sunday Herald, London, 19 June 2005).
The majority of natural disasters affect poor nations and the poor in all nations the most, since their coping capacity is limited. Climate change directly affects sensitive sectors like agriculture, forestry and fishery and thereby the livelihoods of millions of coastal communities (Sinha & Swaminathan 1991; Swaminathan 1996). The adverse impacts of climate change, in the form of declining rainfall alternating with heavy downpours causing floods, and long dry spells leading to droughts, severely threaten livelihoods, economy and food security. To add to this, poor infrastructure facilities, weak institutional mechanisms, lack of financial resources and vast sectoral and regional disparities adversely affect the adaptive capacity of developing countries to climate change. Thus, climate change exerts additional stress on the ecological and socio-economic systems that are already facing tremendous pressure due to rapid industrialization, urbanization and globalization of economies.
Hydro-meteorological hazards would exert even greater hardship to the people as well as damage to the natural resources in small island state developing countries and countries with long coastlines, such as India. It is reported (UNEP 1989) that India, with a low-lying densely populated coastline extending to over 7000 km, is highly vulnerable to sea-level rise. Most of the paddy fields of coastal regions are highly vulnerable to inundation and salinization (Gupta 2005). The small island nations, such as Kiribati, Seychelles and Maldives, have more than 80% of the land area at less than a metre above the present sea level. Such low-lying islands may have to pay a heavy price in terms of loss of human lives, and property if sea level rises to the extent forecast by global climate models (UNEP/GRID; Arendal 2005). Further, migration of coastal communities to inland areas will swell the number of environmental refugees (Myers 2000, 2002). Earthquake risk is high in several parts of India (Rao 2005). There is also concern about future large magnitude earthquakes along the Sumatra Fault southeast of the 2005 event rupture and the adjacent region that last failed in 1833, which is likely to have accumulated substantial strain (Lay et al. 2005; Sieh 2006). International efforts to improve the tsunami-warning capabilities are warranted, given the inevitability of future great thrust earthquakes along the Sumatra zone. Consequently, the Indian Ocean countries are creating a framework for a region-wide warning system and girding for the next killer wave (Stone & Kerr 2005). The growing concentration of population along India's coastline will have to be prepared particularly for much higher intensity of hydro-meteorological hazards. For these reasons, small island developing countries and the countries with long coastlines need to focus on disaster management particularly in their coastal regions. Discussion of these issues with special reference to the coastal regions in the developing countries is the main thrust of this paper. The need of the hour is to promote concerted efforts for preserving natural ecosystems and diversifying coastal economies, which can enhance recovery from disasters and resilience to their effects (Adger et al. 2005; Allenby & Fink 2005).
Vulnerability to disasters has social, gender, ecological and economic dimensions in addition to the well-acknowledged technological capacities of the countries. It describes the degree to which a socio-economic system or physical assets are either susceptible or resilient to the impact of natural hazards. Development practices which do not take into account the susceptibility to natural hazards result in enhancing the vulnerability. There is a close correlation among the trends of increased demographic pressure in developing countries, enhanced environmental degradation, higher human vulnerability and the intensity of the natural disasters. For instance, both the intensity of damage and loss of human lives were more severe where the mangrove forests had been degraded at the time of the Orissa cyclone in 1999. The degradation of the environment, particularly the forest cover, is often a critical factor that transforms a natural hazard, or a climatic extreme such as heavy downpour, into a disaster (Myers 1989).
Poverty, environmental degradation and hazard vulnerability form a vicious spiral, and are mutually reinforcing. The poor are compelled to exploit environmental resources for survival and also to live dangerously close to the high tide zones, and thus become highly vulnerable to cyclones, tsunamis, etc. Furthermore, among the poor, women and children are particularly vulnerable. Apart from the physical constraints caused by pregnancy, delivery, nursing care, etc., social and economic handicaps also contribute to their enhanced vulnerability. A generally poor reproductive health care system, particularly for women in these rural areas, combined with increasing incidence of tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS substantially weaken their health status. In India, economic globalization has accelerated the pace of migration of young men from rural to urban areas, where new employment opportunities have emerged. While this trend may be good in one sense, the detrimental consequence is the ‘feminization of agriculture’ in the rural areas. With much of the agriculture in the rural areas remaining as ‘subsistence farming’, the real effect is the ‘feminization of poverty’.
Already handicapped by gender-related disadvantages, the worsening of economic status makes women much more vulnerable socially. Aglionby (2005) reported that four times as many women died in the tsunami as men on 26 December 2004. In Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu, India, 391 women were killed, compared with 146 men. According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), children account for a third of the casualty. In some districts of Tamil Nadu, the casualty among children was an overwhelming 50–60% (‘UNICEF Lays Out Four Point Programme for Tsunami children’, Press Trust of India, 4 January 2005). The young girls and women face the danger of being pushed into prostitution by the anti-social elements. The trafficking of young women and girls in the human trade was noted as a serious dimension of gender-specific vulnerability resulting from natural disasters. What matters in the end, however, is that both sudden and extremely violent as well as the not-so-aggressive natural hazards with considerable lead time exert their adverse effects differentially on urban and the rural environments, the rich and poor and males and females. The need is to bridge the gaps in technological, social and gender divides.
3. Vicious spiral between poverty, environmental degradation and natural disasters
The United Nations Department of Economics and Social Affairs developed a background document in February 2002 on Sustainable Development for the World Summit on Sustainable Development held during August 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa. One of the background papers submitted by the United Nations relating to an International Strategy for Disaster Reduction discusses natural disasters and sustainable development. The question posed in it was whether sustainable development along with the international instruments aiming at poverty reduction and environment protection, can be accomplished without taking into account the risk of natural hazards and their impacts. The answer was negative. Disaster reduction policies and measures should enable societies to become resilient to natural hazards while ensuring that development efforts do not increase their vulnerability to these hazards.
Way back in 1972, at the UN Conference on the ‘Human Environment’ held in Stockholm, Sweden, late Ms Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, stated that without addressing the problems of poverty and deprivations, it will not be possible to establish harmony between humankind and nature. Dr Maurice Strong, then Adviser to the UN Secretary-General also drew attention to the vicious spiral between poverty and environmental degradation. Resource-poor and landless rural women and men migrate to neighbouring urban areas in order to eke out a living and end up as ‘environmental refugees’ (Myers 2002). The M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) that was set up in Chennai, India about 15 years ago, therefore, laid stress on linking the livelihood security of landless and resource-poor rural women and men with ecological security in a mutually reinforcing manner. MSSRF's research programmes are also designed to transform the ‘Green Revolution’ referred to as ‘exploitative agriculture’ (Swaminathan 1968) into an ‘Evergreen Revolution’, a term coined by Swaminathan (1996) to denote farming systems that do not cause degradation of the ecological foundation of agriculture and would, therefore, be able to enhance productivity in perpetuity. The vicious spiral between environmental degradation and ever increasing frequency and intensity of hydro-meteorological disasters has received the foundation's attention. It is now widely acknowledged that anthropogenic pressures leading to degradation of mangrove forests (FAO 2003) in the coastal regions and non-mangrove forests throughout the developing world reduce carbon dioxide absorption and generation of oxygen. Soil erosion is yet another serious problem. Degradation of forests directly and indirectly also enhances human vulnerability to natural disasters. The mutually reinforcing vicious linkages among environmental degradation, poverty, destruction by natural disasters and sustainable development are illustrated (figure 1).
The strategy to break the vicious linkages requires concurrent attention to reduction of threats to sustainable rural livelihoods, restoration, conservation and enhancement of ecosystems and arresting environmental degradation and sustainable use of natural resources. The dictum, ‘good ecology is good business’ (Swaminathan 1999a) should underpin all development activities. Developing countries like India, must launch vigorous family planning programmes and contain the unsustainable population explosion. In India, poor economic conditions and the craving to have a son account for a large number of children per couple in many households. Technologically advanced countries, which also have high levels of human resource development, must not only reduce their consumption of energy from fossil fuels, but also share their technologies for ‘clean energy’ production technologies and energy-saving strategies with the developing countries. The transboundary nature of the harmful effects of climate change leaves humankind with no other option. It is equally important to integrate disaster management with policies, programme of activities and support for sustainable development. The Brundtland Commission Report (1987) was titled ‘Our Common Future’ to stress that irrespective of political frontiers, the fate of humankind is ecologically intertwined.
4. Mainstreaming disaster management into sustainable development
(a) Bottom-up approach to sustainable use of natural resources
(i) Sustainable development
By the 1980s, humankind started facing serious ecological and social crises. The ecological problems consisted of serious damage to the basic life support systems of land, water, forests, biodiversity and atmosphere. Renewable energy sources also became a matter of great concern. The social dimension of crises arose from increasing poverty and hunger, economic, social and gender inequities, rapid growth in human population resulting in reduced per capita availability of arable land and irrigation water. The ‘famine of employment’ (i.e. livelihood) largely accounts for food insecurity at the individual household level, because of population explosion on the one hand, and rapid technological advances leading to automation and jobless economic growth, on the other. All these factors led to MSSRF defining its research agenda in terms of sustainable development, rooted in the principles of ecology, social and gender equity, employment (particularly rural livelihood) generation and economic viability and energy efficiency (A Social Vision for Science 2000). If technology was an important factor in the past in increasing economic and social disparities and causing ecological harm, the MSSRF's approach has been to enlist appropriate blends of traditional and frontier technologies as allies in the movement for economic and ecological well being and gender equity. A social contract between science and society (Swaminathan 1999b, 2000a) has been underpinning the programme of activities of the MSSRF. In the field of agriculture, the MSSRF's goal is to spread an Evergreen Revolution (Swaminathan 2000b). Wilson (2002) in his analytical book ‘Future of life’ refers to the significance of Swaminathan's concept of Evergreen Revolution in the following words: ‘The problem before us is how to feed billions of new mouths over the next several decades and save the rest of life at the same time, without being trapped in a Faustian bargain that threatens freedom and security. No one knows the exact solution to this dilemma. The benefit must come from an Evergreen Revolution’.
Sustainable development as defined by the Brundtland Commission (1987) is ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. It is clear then that sustainable development that takes the impact of human activities on the environment into account and tries to minimize environmental damage is the key to poverty reduction, ecological security and mitigation and management of weather- and water-related natural disasters. The programme of research and development initiatives of the MSSRF provides replicable models for realizing sustainable development (Swaminathan 2005a). Focusing on the resource-poor and landless communities in the rural, and particularly in the coastal, regions is urgent, imperative for reasons of population density, work and income security, rapidly declining natural resources and high level of vulnerability to natural disasters. The Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve in the State of Tamil Nadu, India, is an example of a precious biological heritage affected by the vicious spiral of poverty, degradation of natural resources, and natural disasters (M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, 1998). Their marine and adjacent land resources and biodiversity have started to decline rapidly because of a combination of anthropogenic pressure, pollution and hydro-meteorological disasters. Consequently, sea cows (dugong) and several kinds of marine organisms notably disappeared and these necessitated the MSSRF to initiate appropriate remedial action (Twelfth Annual Report 2001–2002, of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation). This action is described below.
(ii) Operationalizing sustainable development
With a firm conviction that the vicious spiral of poverty and environmental degradation could be broken by technological and knowledge empowerment of the illiterate, unskilled and resource-poor rural women and men, the MSSRF initiated in 1998 a programme for fostering sustainable livelihoods in the Gulf of Mannar area with support from the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Development Programme. Earlier, similar work had been initiated in about 20 villages in Pondicherry and great deal of experience had been gained. The thrust in these projects is the blending of frontier technologies with traditional knowledge in order to provide a pro-nature, pro-poor, pro-women and pro-employment orientation to technology development and dissemination. The resultant technologies, known as ‘ecotechnologies’ are readily adopted by rural families, because of their economic and ecological advantages. Local natural resources are sustainably managed. The question whether the largely illiterate and semi-literate rural women and men could develop knowledge and skills and become capable of handling eco-enterprises had already been answered in the 1970s. Swaminathan (1972) had coined the term ‘techniracy’ to describe the pedagogic methodology of ‘learning by doing’. When learning is through work experience, the poor are able to master new technologies within a short span of time.
Groups of women and men separately or jointly organize themselves into self-help groups (SHGs) and undergo training and capacity building in one or more ecotechnologies based on the resources available in the region. Whole villages are organized into biovillages, where concurrent attention is paid to the conservation and enhancement of natural resources and to on-farm, non-farm and off-farm livelihood opportunities. In biovillages, the extreme poor (i.e. those earning one US dollar or less per day) are enabled to take to multiple enterprises based on market demand so that the total income of the family is raised to an adequate level. The biovillage paradigm, designed to foster sustainable and equitable rural development and job-led economic growth (Swaminathan 2005a), is represented in figure 2.
Location of biovillages in three states of India, numbering 100 at present, is shown in figure 3.
In order to build the capacity of rural families to manage the various enterprises on their own, Biocentres are established as integral part of the biovillages. The organization and functions of the Biocentre are presented in figure 4. The eco-enterprises shown in figure 4 are just illustrative and not exhaustive. The aim is to provide key centralized services to promote economically viable, decentralized production, thereby combining the benefits of ‘mass production’ and ‘production by masses’ approaches to economic activity.
Demystification of technologies, especially relevant to sustainable rural development, training and capacity building of the rural communities, provision of microcredit for the microenterprises and establishing market linkages, are all integral components of a biovillage paradigm.
The five Es of ecotechnology in the biovillage paradigm are economics, ecology, equity (gender and social), energy and employment. Without job-led economic growth, the poor and the marginalized people will not be able to come out of the poverty trap. Renewable energy is essential, particularly in the context of an ever increasing price of petroleum-based fuels.
Further, the sustainability factor would not be firmly anchored unless social and gender equities are mainstreamed into all the development activities. The actions to be taken today for sustainable development, keeping in view the need to manage climate change, are outlined by Swaminathan (2002).
The coastal communities can access both the land and marine resources for developing ecotechnologies and eco-enterprises. The coastal biovillage paradigm, therefore, takes into its account both the marine- and the land-based natural resources for developing eco-enterprises, as well as training and capacity building of the local communities. The MSSRF has prepared a toolkit describing the various ecotechnologies and how to develop these. Wherever feasible, ‘aquaculture estates’ are also developed. Individual fishermen can bring the catch of the day to these estates, which are equipped to process and market the fish, crabs, prawns, etc. While individual fishermen may not have time and resources to process and market their commodities, the centralized aquaculture estates are designed for this purpose. The power of scale is thus provided to the resource-poor fisher communities. A ‘fish for all’ movement was also launched in 2003 jointly with World Fish Centre in Penang in order to ensure integrated attention to all steps in the capture to consumption chain.
Marine- and land-based natural resources in the coastal areas for developing on-farm and non-farm enterprises are wide ranging. For example, the brackish water area, especially mud flats and saline-affected areas, largely remain barren or with limited biological productivity due to low soil organic content, low level of nutrients and hypersaline conditions for most part of the year. In the estuaries, mangroves provide detritus that nourish crabs, prawns and fish (Mumby et al. 2004). Developing an enterprise of mud crab fattening is pro-nature, pro-poor, pro-women and pro-livelihood oriented (figure 5a). Organic shrimp aquaculture is another community-centred eco-enterprise. Culturing ornamental fish is very remunerative since it has an export market and landless women are given training and initial resources to take it up. Fish pickle is also a very promising enterprise. Since many of the coastal villages do not have cold storage, the fisher women are forced to sell the fish catch of the day to the middlemen at low prices. Introduction of fish pickle technology has resulted not only in value-addition, but also in reducing the involvement of middlemen and others who exploit the fishers. Pearl culture is yet another market-driven enterprise. In the Gulf of Mannar area, the MSSRF introduced local communities to the science and art of artificial coral reefs. This has helped to revive fisheries in small areas. Coral reefs are an important ecosystem, both in terms of biodiversity and for the invaluable goods and services they provide to millions of coastal dwellers at tropical latitudes (Moberg & Folke 1999).
Paddy is a major agricultural crop in the eastern coastal areas of India. The landless women are trained to use the paddy straw as substrate to culture oyster mushrooms (figure 5b). Making paper and boards from banana waste is yet another pro-nature, pro-women and pro-poor enterprise.
The new paradigm of Evergreen Revolution envisages agriculture to be more biology- than chemistry-based. What this means is that biofertilizers and biopesticides would replace the chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides, respectively. SHGs of women are trained to produce vermicompost/worm compost (i.e. the process of using earthworms to digest kitchen and garden waste to create a faster than normal composting; earthworm castings contain five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium to enrich the soil (figure 5c) and biofertilizers and biopesticides such as the Trichogramma egg parasitoid (figure 5d). It must be emphasized that demystification of science and successful standardization of the laboratory-based technologies into ecotechnologies leads to the shifting of assetless families from unskilled to skilled work, thereby adding economic value to their time and labour.
The experience with biovillage paradigm shows that people-centric sustainable management of local land, forest and marine resources establishes mutually reinforcing linkages between development and environment. The environmental degradation ascribable to anthropogenic pressures is greatly minimized. As of now, there are 100 biovillages located in Tamil Nadu, Orissa and union territory of Pondicherry (figure 3).
(b) Bottom-up participatory management of bioshield in the coastal regions
During the decades preceding the 1990s, degradation of mangrove forests in India was unbridled. The current mangrove area worldwide has fallen below 15 million ha, down from 19.8 million ha in 1980 although the rate of mangrove deforestation has decreased in the 1990s from that of the 1980s (Mayaux et al. 2005). With substantial financial support from the India–Canada Environmental Facility (ICEF), the MSSRF took up a massive restoration of the mangrove forests in the coastal areas of West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Systematic studies on the causes of degradation whether natural or human-influenced were first carried out, and then suitable methods to ensure successful restoration were followed. A very substantial number of nursery material of different mangrove species was required. This provided an opportunity to train local women and men SHGs for raising nursery material. In doing so, they became aware of the role of mangrove trees and shrubs in providing nutrients to fish, prawns and crabs. The meaning of the traditional saying by fishermen in the Andaman sea, ‘mangroves are the roots of the sea’ became clear. The realization that their livelihood security was closely entwined with the security of the mangrove ecosystem was profound. Emergence of new harmony between the mangrove-dependent rural communities and the mangrove forests, prompted the MSSRF to develop a model for joint mangrove management (JMM), to be adopted and replicated by the Forest Department which manages mangrove wetlands in India. JMM aims at joint participation and sharing of experiences in mangrove management by the Forest Department, the mangrove user community (particularly the women), related government departments and non-governmental organizations in all mangrove management functions—resource mapping, planning, regeneration, protection and benefit-sharing (The Mangrove Decade and Beyond 2002).
The role of mangrove species acting as a bioshield to reduce the destructive potential of cyclones and tsunami became evident during the Orissa supercyclone in October 1999 and the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004. In tsunami-affected Pichavaram in Tamil Nadu, the hamlets located between the sea and the mangroves were severely affected and many were destroyed, with a few deaths and substantial damage to houses, boats and fishing nets. On the other hand, the hamlets within the physical cover of the mangrove forest were largely protected, and there were no tsunami-associated deaths at all. Remote sensing (figure 6), ground-based data (Selvam et al. in press) and eyewitness accounts of the survivors of the two natural disasters have convinced the Indian government, the non-governmental organizations and coastal communities of the protective role of the mangrove forest. Wherever these have been degraded, plans are afoot for planting mangrove, Casuarina and other suitable species along the shore line. Danielsen et al. (2005) have demonstrated the protective role of the mangrove bioshield in a tsunami-affected region in Tamil Nadu. These post-tsunami observations are largely in accordance with the analytical models showing that 30 trees per 100 m2 in a 100 m wide belt may reduce the maximum tsunami flow pressure by more than 90% (Hiraishi & Harada 2003). In addition, coral reefs are also as important as the bioshield. For island state countries like Maldives, which are just a metre above the sea level, coral reefs provide ecological and economic security. The corals and their ecosystem are a major tourist attraction (Moberg & Folke 1999).
In areas, where the edaphic and hydrological conditions are not favourable for putting up a mangrove bioshield, the plans are to go for non-mangrove species like Casuarina, followed by salt-tolerant species such as Pandanus, coconut, cashewnut, etc. Intercropping of these with low input and high value crops (pulses, spices, fruit crops depending upon soil, climate, etc.) would combine ecology (bioshield) and economy (livelihood). The strong and harmonious relationships among ecology, economics and development not only reduce the death and devastation by natural disasters, but also enhance the coping capacity of the local rural communities. Mangrove species are an effective carbon sink and so would contribute to remedying the imbalance between carbon emissions and carbon absorption.
(c) Community-centred cyclone/tsunami shelters, and food, fodder and water banks
In areas highly vulnerable to cyclones, tsunamis, surge storms, etc., the MSSRF's model of Community Seed, Grain, Water Banks (figure 7a,b; i.e. banks with a difference) can help in enhancing the coping power of the people during a natural hazard. Often the transport and communication are severely disrupted by natural disasters, and the worse-hit areas are almost completely cut-off from rest of the world. The initial relief measures invariably consist of food packets dropped from aircrafts and helicopters. The least developed countries may not have capacity to do even this. In several hydro-meteorological disaster-prone areas, such relief measures are an annual feature. A decentralized, community-centred grain and water (food) bank would be able to provide relief almost immediately, and avoid ‘transient hunger’. Built into this ‘bottom-up’ model is the suitable storage system.
The storage facilities could be traditional, conforming to traditional knowledge and ethos, but incorporating modern scientific inputs to withstand the impacts of natural disasters. The MSSRF facilitated putting up two multi-purpose cyclone shelters in the cyclone-prone coastal villages of Orissa. These are a safe haven during extreme natural hazards such as cyclones, windstorms and floods. These could also be linked in the neighbourhood with food and water banks, as well as first-aid facilities. Modern information and communication technology (ICT)-based village knowledge centres (VKCs) provided in these shelters will also help internet facilities for communication during emergency (§4d). Women, children and the infirm should be evacuated to these shelters as soon as early warning is received. The availability of first-aid, food and water would enhance the coping capacity of the communities during the disaster. The details of the community seed, grain, water and fodder banks, as well as their role in ensuring food security, are found in the book titled, ‘Community Grain Bank’ (2001) jointly published by the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation and the World Food Programme, New Delhi.
(d) Modern ICT-based VKCs for extreme natural hazard management
With a firm conviction and foresight that knowledge empowerment of rural women and men is crucial for sustainable development and poverty reduction, the MSSRF set up in 1997 what were then referred to as village information centres. These are now called VKCs. Wherever telephone lines are not available, connectivity is established through a wired-wireless hybrid technology. Particular attention is given to creating content that is time- and locale-specific and demand-driven. The time- and locale-specific and demand-driven information pertain to weather, crop and animal husbandry, integrated pest management, market trends and prices of local commodities, health care, immunization of children, poverty alleviation schemes of the government, details of eco-enterprises, transport, education, etc. A good example of value-addition to generic information that has been acclaimed world over is the 48 h advance information on the sea wave heights in the Bay of Bengal provided round the clock for the benefit of the fishermen in a small village, Veerampattinam, in the union territory of Pondicherry. In this case, the MSSRF downloads the data on the sea wave heights from the US Naval website, which is unclassified and generic. The MSSRF enhances the value of this information by pinpointing the sea wave heights close to Veerampattinam. The value-added information so gained from the use of high technology is announced in Tamil, the local vernacular, through low-tech loudspeakers. The need to use loudspeakers arises from the fact that some of the fishers cannot read and most of them are totally engrossed in their work. Over the years, the fishers have acknowledged how useful this timely, locale-specific and value-added information has been in avoiding risk to lives on the sea in their country rafts (Catamaran). The fisher women are very relieved that their men would not be caught in a severe cyclonic storm, and drown in the sea.
The village knowledge revolution launched by the MSSRF in a few villages in 1997 involved integrated use of the internet, cable TV, radio and the vernacular press. The experience reveals that the internet-radio combination is particularly powerful for ‘reaching the unreached’ and ‘voicing the voiceless’ in rural India (figure 8).
The success of the VKCs set up by the MSSRF is not only because of their time- and locale-specific, value-added, demand-driven information content, but also the basic principles of these being user-controlled, and user-managed with strong social and gender equities. In fact, in almost all the VKCs, young women who have studied up to seventh or eighth class and have learnt computer literacy are the operators and managers. The experience of the MSSRF is that given a sense of ownership and training, the rural youth take to making use of the internet like a fish to water.
On the morning of 26 December 2004, the VKC with its loudspeaker system saved many lives in the village Veerampattinam. It so happened that on that fateful Sunday morning, a few young men sitting on the seashore noticed strange behaviour of the sea. The sea first receded and at the very rear, as far eyes could see, the waves were rising alarmingly high. Guessing that something was drastically wrong, they rushed to the VKC and used the loudspeakers to ask the women, children and men to run to higher grounds away from the seashore. This saved the lives of all those who were minding their business in their huts and outside close to the shoreline. Damage to property was inevitable but precious human lives were saved.
With the initiatives of the MSSRF and support of the Government of India, there is now a vigorous movement, by mobilizing the power of partnership, of National Alliance for Mission 2007: Every Village a Knowledge Centre (figure 9). The goal of Mission 2007 is to have a knowledge centre in each of the 600 000 plus villages of India by the year 2007, which marks the 60th anniversary of India's Independence.
At present, 40 VKCs have been set up in various states as indicated by arrows (figure 10), in addition to 13 Village Resource Centres (hubs) each of which has connectivity with several villages falling within a radius of approximately 25 km. The work has picked up momentum involving scores of organizations each concentrating on a particular region/state of the country.
In the disaster-prone rural areas, at least one woman and one man will need to be trained to make use of the internet, GIS, remote sensing and communication systems. GIS can help in improving the quality and power of analysis of mitigation measures and in the implementation of emergency preparedness and response action. Identification of hazardous areas and monitoring the planet for its changes on a real time basis and to give early warning about many impending disasters is now possible with remote sensing. Practical ways of integrating disaster management with sustainable development are summarized by Swaminathan (2005b). As medium- and long-term rehabilitation strategies, he has suggested three steps of action all along the coast. These are: (i) strengthening the ecological foundations (bioshield) of sustainable human security; (ii) fostering sustainable livelihood security; and (iii) putting in place a network of rural knowledge centres. Swaminathan (2005b) has also described the principles and methodologies of mainstreaming disaster management into sustainable development.
(e) Genetic shields in coastal areas vulnerable to seawater inundation
In his Anniversary Address (2004), Lord May refers to the rapidly growing water shortage as a global problem that could lead to armed conflicts among neighbouring countries which share rivers, etc. He also suggested appropriate use of the recombinant DNA technology to produce crops that are drought-resistant, and/or salt-tolerant, thus moving in the direction of producing crops that are adapted to their environment (figure 11).
Based on the suggestion of Prof. M.S. Swaminathan as early as 1988 at a meeting on climate change in Kyoto, Japan, the scientists at the MSSRF identified several salt-tolerant genes from the mangrove species, Avicennia marina (Mehta et al. 2005) and transferred these through the recombinant DNA technology to rice. It is an important crop in the coastal areas, which are threatened by increasing sea level, and frequent storms and cyclones. The salinity-resistant rice developed with the help of genes transferred from unrelated mangrove species (A. marina) also emphasizes the urgent need to prevent loss of valuable genes through conservation and enhancement of biodiversity in the developing countries. The transgenic rice tolerates salinity up to 150 mM. The development of transgenic salt-tolerant rice (Prashant & Parida 2005) is scientifically fascinating and socially relevant. MSSRF is currently engaged in transferring drought-resistant genes from Prosopis juliflora, a common desert tree, to water-thirsty rice. Such genetic shielding of crop plants against salinity, submergence and drought would sustain the coastal agriculture and the livelihoods of millions of resource-poor farming families, even if the frequencies and intensities of extreme hydro-meteorological disasters increase. Recombinant DNA technology provides an opportunity to design and develop genetic shields against adverse changes in temperature, precipitation and sea level as a result of global warming.
(f) Guiding principles for integrated coastal zone management
For integrating disaster management strategies with sustainable development, the developing countries need to adhere to certain guidelines. An Expert Committee chaired by Prof. M. S. Swaminathan has proposed 12 basic guiding principles for the sustainable and scientific management of the coastal zone (Swaminathan 2005a,b). The first and the foremost one is that ecological security, cultural security, livelihood security and national security should be the cornerstones of an integrated coastal zone management policy. The coastal zone would include the area from territorial limits (12 nautical miles), including its sea bed, to the administrative boundaries or the biological boundaries demarcated on the landward side of the sea coast. The coastal zone management should also include the island water bodies influenced by tidal action and the land area along such water bodies. The precautionary approach should be used where there are potential threats of serious or irreversible damage to ecologically critical coastal systems and to living aquatic resources. Scientific uncertainty should not be used as an excuse for the unsustainable exploitation of coastal resources—both living and non-living. Ecological economics should underpin economic activities, so that present day interests and future prospects are not antagonistic. Significant biological, cultural and natural assets should be considered incomparable, invaluable and irreplaceable and should receive overriding priority in the allocation of resources for coastal area protection and conservation.
5. Tsunami devastation of Andaman and Nicobar Islands: converting calamities into opportunities
(a) Nature of devastation
According to Government of India reports (see the document of United Nations Country Team India, March 2005 on ‘Recovery Framework in Support of Government of India’ for a Post-tsunami Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Programme), 10 749 people in India lost their lives, and 5640 persons were still missing, after the tsunami of 26 December 2004. Approximately 7000 people escaped with injuries (Tsunami Rehabilitation Programme Planning Commission Government of India March 2005, Link: http://www.icsf.net/jsp/english/flashnews/rehabDocs/ind0236.pdf).
The island of Andaman and Nicobar archipelago consists of 572 emerald islands, islets and rocks. It stretches approximately 750 km from the northern most Andaman to the Southern most Indira point in Great Nicobar. Located in the Bay of Bengal, these islands stretch from approximately 6 to 14° north latitude, and approximately 92 to 94° east longitude.
The Sumatra–Andaman earthquake (M 9.3) on 26 December 2004 released 4.3×1018 J, equivalent to the energy of a 100 Gton bomb. Shifts in the sea floor displaced more than 30 km3 of seawater (Bilham 2005), generating powerful tsunami waves. The rupture process was initially slow, but picked up speed at approximately 2.5 km s−1 and proceeded north northwest approximately 1200–1300 km along the Andaman trough (Ammon et al. 2005).
From the point of rehabilitation and preparation of an action plan to integrate disaster management with sustainable development, the geological and geomorphological changes induced by the earthquake and tsunami need to be taken into account. Denyer (2005) has reported that the Andaman and Nicobar Islands appear to have shifted southwest by around 4 m (13 feet), according to GPS data. The northernmost inhabited island Diglipur in the north Andamans has risen by 0.5–0.8 m (1.7–2.6 feet), whereas the southernmost Indira point (Great Nicobar) has sunk by approximately 1.4–1.8 m (4.6–5.9 feet). Many of the islands suffered extensive damage, as is shown for Katchal islands before (figure 12a) and after the tsunami (figure 12b).
(b) Integrating disaster management with sustainable development of post-tsunami Andaman and Nicobar island archipelago
The extensive geographic and geological changes caused by the extreme natural disaster have necessitated a new outlook and action plan for the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The past unsustainable practices should be brought to an end so that a new era, in which humans and nature are in a harmonious and mutually reinforcing relationship, can begin.
Keeping all these in view, the MSSRF has recommended locale-specific, sustainable solutions. The main focus is to integrate ecological security with livelihood security largely based on forestry and fisheries and put in place rural knowledge centres with the internet and GIS for early warning and disaster mitigation. The blue print for integrating disaster management into sustainable development was presented by Swaminathan (2005b).
The agriculture recommended is organic agriculture with low input, low volume and high value crops. The first and foremost is the erection of bioshield or the shelterbelt with mangrove or non-mangrove tree species based on ecological, edaphic and the hydrological conditions. After several rows of these, the other salt-tolerant, and economically useful species (e.g. coconut, pandanus, bamboo, canes, cashewnut, arecanut, etc.) which are all capable of reducing the velocity of cyclones, tsunamis, and the harmful effects of seawater rise due to global warming, should be planted. In between the rows of coconut or arecanut trees, spices (especially pepper, clove and nutmeg) can be grown organically as intercrop. This approach will effectively protect the lives and enhance the livelihoods.
The forest cover of Andaman and Nicobar islands is approximately 86%; the biodiversity is rich, and it includes a few unique fauna and flora which are endemic. Particular care needs to be taken to protect the uniquely rich biodiversity not only from human encroachment (i.e. subsistence farming with low value grain crops, polluting industries, etc.) but also from erosion and extensive intrusion of seawater on account of natural disasters and sea-level rise due to climate change. For these reasons, the MSSRF has laid stress on limiting the kind of agriculture that requires chemical inputs (i.e. fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) on one hand, and promoting organic agriculture that totally forbids application of chemical inputs, on the other. In a few areas, ‘mixed dynamic farming’ systems (organic agriculture with farm animals to establish a symbiotic relationship with the farm providing fodder and feed to animals and the animals in turn enriching the soil organic nutrients with dung and urine) with Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture is recommended. These are the pathways to achieve the Evergreen Revolution.
Livelihood based on fisheries has enormous potential. Both culture fisheries (i.e. ornamental fish, prawn and crab), and capture fisheries (i.e. pelagic, demersal and deep sea) will provide eco-friendly livelihoods. Women, men and mixed SHGs can take up prawn culture and crab fattening in the areas of South Andamans and Campbell Bay (Great Nicobar) where continuous intrusion of seawater during high tides has rendered paddy cultivation difficult. Preparing fish pickles from certain types of fish is an ideal value-enhanced eco-enterprise for women.
Organically grown coconut-centred eco-enterprises in the Nicobar groups of islands have high potential. Processing dry coconut kernels (copra) for oil extraction, making furniture from the coconut trunk, and handicrafts articles from coconut shell and fibre are just a few to mention. Most importantly, the thick forest absorbs a great deal of carbon—a benefit for the entire planet.
Tourism should be eco-tourism. The tourists could choose to have pleasure and thrill of staying at the Nicobari huts (figure 13) rather than in five star concrete buildings. The Nicobari huts were resistant to the powerful earthquake (M 9.30), while almost all the concrete buildings collapsed.
The VKCs with early warning systems are very important. The spectrum of time- and locale-specific, demand-driven information content, developed in a bottom-up approach is rather wide. Broadly, these would fall under tele-fisheries, tele-agriculture, tele-medicine, tele-health, tele-education and tele-forestry. Particular attention should be given for local weather forecasts and locations of safe havens in case of an extreme natural hazard. The Andaman and Nicobar islands require multi-purpose cyclone/tsunami shelters as community-centred facilities. Adequate food and drinking water supplies must be stored and managed by local women and men SHGs along with elected representatives of grassroot level institutions or the Tribal Councils, whichever is appropriate. These are the MSSRF's banks with a difference already described above.
The VKCs will have a major role in the community-based disaster preparedness. Women and men attached to the VKCs are already well-trained in the use of the internet, video-conferencing, etc. In addition, they should be trained to use GPS and to locate safer areas within a short time when an extreme natural disaster strikes, and to evacuate the women and children immediately to these safer areas.
(c) Alternate land-based livelihoods for fisher women
The 1999 supercyclone in Orissa, and the 2004 tsunami have revealed the extreme vulnerability of livelihoods based only on capture fisheries. The boats and fishing nets were severely damaged. Replacement and repair involve huge capital investment, often beyond the means of marginal and resource-poor fishermen. Secondly, major changes in the sea, and coastline often exert an impact on the concentration and dynamics of the fish population, which are within the access of the resource-poor fishers. After the tsunami, many fishermen observed plenty of fish in some places, and very few in other places. The livelihood is therefore disrupted.
The MSSRF provided solution to this malady by training and capacity-building of the women of the fishing communities for taking up land-based alternate livelihoods. In the tsunami-devastated fishing village Sadras Kuppam, approximately 50 km south of Chennai, the fisher women were given necessary training, capability and capacity for taking up eco-enterprises, such as mushroom cultivation and poultry rearing. A rural knowledge centre with internet facilities and provision for early warning system has also been set up. The fisher women are now experts in mushroom culture, rearing and management of poultry that is disease-free, and in operating the modern ICT-based VKCs. Soon, they will receive from the MSSRF the value-added information on the sea wave heights so that their men could avoid venturing to sea in their catamaran (country raft) when the sea waves are likely to turn dangerously high and violent.
In terms of loss of human lives and erosion of natural resource base for livelihoods, the coastal areas are highly vulnerable to extreme natural disasters. The resource-poor farming and fishing communities in the small island developing countries, and the countries with long coastlines are the worst hit. Apart from a low level of technology development, social, economic and gender inequities greatly accentuate their susceptibility to, and suffering from, natural disasters. Concurrent attention to ecotechnological and knowledge empowerment as well as elimination of social and gender inequities will enhance the resilience and coping capacity of the resource-poor rural women and men. Strengthening the livelihood and knowledge bases of the rural communities through biovillage paradigm and rural knowledge centres helps in linking livelihood security with ecological security. That is also the pathway of mainstreaming disaster mitigation/management with sustainable development. The current movement in India, of ‘Mission 2007: Every village a knowledge centre’ with emphasis on time- and locale-specific, demand-driven and value-enhanced information content will greatly strengthen the capacity of local populations to manage natural disasters in a much more effective manner in the future.
In addition to these, genetic shielding of the major crops for coastal agriculture with genes for abiotic stresses from widely unrelated species through recombinant DNA technology will strengthen crop security in areas prone to seawater inundation, drought and other abiotic stresses.
To sum up, there can really be no effective disaster management without sustainable management of natural resources, poverty reduction, and food, water and work security in the vulnerable rural areas of the developing countries. Disaster management procedures must become integral components of future development paradigms.
The authors place on record their sincere thanks to Prof. Stephen Sparks FRS for critical evaluation of the manuscript and valuable suggestions.
One contribution of 20 to a Discussion Meeting Issue ‘Extreme natural hazards’.
- © 2006 The Royal Society