How mangrove forests can prevent flooding - Examples from Myanmar, India, and Pakistan

Report
from Malteser
Published on 12 Oct 2010
13 October: International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction

Cologne. „Every Euro we spend on disaster risk reduction does not only save lives but also helps us save five Euros which we would have to spend for emergency relief later on", Ingo Radtke, Secretary General of Malteser International, the relief service of the Order of Malta for worldwide humanitarian aid, states on the occasion of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on 13 October. With regard to the increasing frequency of natural catastrophes all around the world, Malteser International carries out more and more relief missions to assist people in acute need. Already during the phase of emergency relief, Malteser International strives to ensure that the affected population will be better prepared in case of a future disaster: "After the catastrophe the people need to be protected better than they were before", Radtke emphasises. "It's not enough to repair old structures." The expert further states that disaster risk reduction is all about saving human lives and using financial means even more efficiently. "I am convinced that emergency relief and disaster risk reduction need to be combined more and more."

The work of Malteser International in Myanmar, India, and Pakistan, where flooding after monsoon rains and cyclones caused severe damage over the last three years, shows how disaster risk reduction can be implemented on a sustainable basis and in a community-based approach. During these disasters more than hundred thousand people lost their lives and millions were and still are directly affected.

In Myanmar where cyclone „Nargis" ended more than 130,000 human lives two years ago, Malteser International is implementing various disaster risk reduction measures: Mangrove forests are being reforested. Adapted to seawater, these trees and bushes are able to function as a shelterbelt and forestall erosion. Simultaneously they can be used as firewood and serve as a habitat for fish and shrimps. In addition, Malteser International promotes new stoves in the villages; these stoves need considerably less firewood than the transitionally used ones. With regard to new flooding, evacuation routes have been developed in cooperation with the local authorities and the village communities and then prepared for save evacuation. They facilitate the quick evacuation of the people from afflicted coastal areas into the hinterland.

In India and Pakistan, disaster risk reduction primarily focuses on improved protection against flooding due to the monsoon season. In addition, Pakistan is especially prone to earthquakes. The last severe quake hit the country five years ago. Dr. Juergen Clemens, Pakistan expert of Malteser International, points out: "Today, about 60,000 people are better prepared and know what to do in case of a future earthquake". In the districts of Muzaffarabad and Bagh, Malteser International has connected a technology which had been developed in Germany to detect the first waves of an earthquake - waves people are not able to perceive - with a public alarm siren. So, the people will be warned in due time against the second waves which, in general, will cause severe damage. The people will win very important seconds to leave their houses on time. In the north of India, Malteser International has installed water pumps on elevated concrete bases in order to protect the pumps against flooding and to prevent the surface water from contaminating the clean drinking water. During flooding, the people can reach these hand pumps by boat and use them. In addition, thanks to a simple early warning system the villages alongside the rivers are being warned against the danger. Hand sirens and warnings via cell phones prevent natural forces from turning into catastrophes.

Malteser International is the worldwide relief agency of the Sovereign Order of Malta for humanitarian aid. The organisation provides aid in about 100 projects in more than 20 countries without distinction of religion, race or political persuasion. Christian values and the humanitarian principles of impartiality and independence are the foundation of its work. For further information: www.malteser-international.org and www.orderofmalta.org