The Hindu, , 22 May 2006

Coastal areas face threat of erosion

Thiruvananthapuram: Hundreds of fishermen and their families in the coastal belt of the district are bracing themselves to face the fury of the rough seas during the South West monsoon period ahead, even as the absence of an integrated strategy for coastal protection adds to their vulnerability.

During the monsoon, the sea swallows up large stretches of the coast, tearing down huts, cutting off roads and damaging seawalls.

The beaches in the Kadhinamkulam, Arattumula, Pozhiyoor, Avaduthura, Poonthura, Valiathura, Cheriyathura and Panathura areas are the most prone to erosion.

Unscientific coastal protection methods and indiscriminate sand quarrying from riverbeds and beaches have been identified as the causes for the worsening erosion. Successive Governments have maintained a studied silence in the face of public pressure to evolve an alternative coastal conservation and development plan.

Ironically, the construction of seawalls, which is the only protection strategy adopted by the Government since 1964, is cited as one of the major reasons for the worsening erosion.

Scientists point out that construction of sea walls has affected the entire hydrodynamics of the coast, causing mass migration of several species of fish to other coasts in search of natural conditions. It is also blamed for the decline in shore-based fishing activities.

Studies warn that sand-mining from riverbeds and beaches has the potential to disturb the coastal equilibrium. The reduction in sediment supply from rivers depletes the quantum of beach sand, which in turn contributes to increased erosion. The extraction of beach sand itself compounds the problem further.

Scientists and a section of fishermen maintain that protection of the beach is the best option for the Thiruvananthapuram coastline. According to M. Baba, Director, Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS), a seawall hinders sediment travel, leading to severe erosion on the leeward side. It is the last option in beach protection and a costly proposition.

Scientists maintain that the best coastal protection strategy is to preserve the beach by distancing all developmental activities and creating a buffer zone for the interplay of land and sea.

"Sea erosion is a temporary phenomenon along the Thiruvananthapuram coast. The lost beach is naturally restored in about a month's time. To minimise calamities, inhabitants can be relocated to interior areas during the monsoon," Dr. Baba says.

T. Peter, president of the Kerala Swathantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation, blames the tardy response of the administration for the losses suffered by fishermen families during the monsoon period.

"Instead of waiting for the waves to wreak havoc, the administration should take steps for anticipatory relocation of families from the erosion- prone areas. Agencies such as the CESS should be entrusted with the task of mapping the coast to identify vulnerable areas," he says.

Mr. Peter also stresses the need to equip public health centres and hospitals to tackle epidemic outbreaks that are common during the season.

Meanwhile, District Collector N. Ayyappan has directed officials to make arrangements to minimise the damage caused by the fury of the monsoon seas. Presiding over an official-level meeting, he issued directives to draw up a list of coastal areas prone to erosion and to identify schools and other buildings that can be used as relief centres.

The City Corporation and panchayats are to ensure that the relocated families are provided food, water, medicines and sanitation facilities. Civil Supplies officials were directed to stock foodgrains for free ration supply.

Officials from the Revenue and Agriculture Departments have been asked to file daily reports on damages to property and crops. A special control room functioning round-the-clock will be set up at the Collectorate. The Fisheries Department has also been instructed to issue weather warnings to fishermen at sea and keep rescue boats ready.