Indonesia

Planting coconut palms in Indonesia

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By Megan Rowling, British Red Cross in Indonesia

Pasi Janeng, a coastal village on the island of Pulo Nasi, off the northern tip of Indonesia's Aceh province, looks picture-perfect. There is a long white beach, waves lapping gently at the shore, red and blue fishing boats dotted along the shore. But there's something missing: coconut palms.

Most of the trees and vegetation that protected this quiet settlement of 99 households from winds and high tides were swept away by the 2004 tsunami, in which 43 villagers died. In recent months, exposure to the elements has allowed strong winds to rip the roofs of two new houses built by humanitarian organizations.

But local people are working hard to prevent hazards like strong winds, storms, high tides and tsunamis causing so much damage in the future. With a 13,346 Swiss franc grant provided by the British Red Cross, villagers have replanted a 2km strip of land behind the beach with coconut palms, casuarina and siron (hibiscus trees) - replacing the trees that were uprooted by the giant waves.

Protecting

Kamarudin, 52, is chairman of the village development forum - an organization set up to work with the Red Cross in implementing projects. Surveying the neat, well-tended saplings, which are fenced off to keep out foraging pigs, he says that the plantation will bring financial benefits as well as protection - if not for him, then for his grandchildren.

"Coconut palms provide income too - they are multi-purpose - it's only the root you can't use. We've planted the same trees that were here before the tsunami, but we wouldn't have had enough money to buy them without the grant," he explains.

For four months, beginning in December 2007, villagers took it in turns to work on the plantation - clearing the land, planting trees and putting in place the wooden fencing and concrete tubing that protects the saplings. While much of the hard graft is over, it will be several years before the trees are large enough to provide decent protection and the plantation needs to be maintained.

Understanding

Kamarudin and his team will make sure that happens. The forum, made up of seven men and two women, developed the proposal for the community grant, with the help of Red Cross volunteers, and will see the project through to its completion.

"The team now has a better understanding of how to prepare for disasters," says Kamarudin. "People in this community also learn a lot from nature."