Nature offers solutions to climate risks, boosts coastal livelihoods in India

World Bank, the
  • About 200 sq km of mangroves have been planted with help from the World-Bank funded $285-million Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Project.
  • Cyclone shelters and the planting of mangroves and other coastal vegetation as a “bio-shield", reduced the tidal wave forces during recent cyclones.
  • In Gujarat, Odisha, and West Bengal, investments in biodiversity, conservation, and complementary livelihoods for fishers continue to foster business enterprises today. The project benefited about 11.9 million people.

Low-lying coastal communities on the Bay of Bengal were hit hard in May by Cyclone Yaas, a few weeks after another storm. These were devastating reminders that climate change has contributed to the intensification of India’s cyclones in recent years. According to India’s media reports, however, India’s coast seemed to fare better than in previous cyclones due to planning, protection and disaster management. 

For more than a decade, India has turned to nature-based solutions to help protect against disaster and climate challenges while increasing its biodiversity. This approach has not only increased the productivity of marine ecosystems, but also created livelihood opportunities for coastal communities, improving the well-being of around 11.9 million people over a 10-year period.

To build resilience against natural disasters, coastal communities in West Bengal, Gujarat and Odisha states have taken the lead in significantly increasing coastal mangrove cover to protect India’s coast. During the most recent cyclones, the tidal wave forces were reduced due to the mangroves that have been planted.

Ten years ago, the country’s mangroves were seriously degraded, according to the Society of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (SICOM). With the help of the flagship World-Bank funded $285-million Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Project, about 200 square kilometers of mangroves have been planted along the coast.  India’s mangroves are currently able to sequester about 1.5 metric tons of carbon per hectare per year, according to SICOM.

"On our visits to West Bengal, Gujarat, and Odisha, we spoke with many of the fishers and families who live near the mangroves. They understand better than anyone the significance of these coastal forests. Planting and fostering mangroves became a central, community-led initiative throughout the project. The fishers, who are concerned about the devastation of cyclone seasons on their livelihoods and villages, say they have benefited from the mangroves as protection from natural disasters. The mangroves also provide nurseries for fish, such as prawns, shrimp, and a variety of crabs, and catfish and barramundi in some areas."

Tapas Paul, Lead environmental specialist at The World Bank

Biodiversity fuels Livelihoods

Targeted investments in community-led biodiversity have helped protect lives and livelihoods. Over the past decade, pilot investments to combat erosion in hazard-prone areas included the planting of mangroves as a “bio-shield.” Revolving loan funding helped villages avoid moneylenders that charge up to 36 percent interest per year. A sample of 2,000 households surveyed by the Indian government showed an increase in overall income in communities.

Lake Chilika, which withstood the recent cyclones, was in bad shape in 2010. The salt-water lagoon had been overfished and was infiltrated by fresh water and invasive vegetation. Since then, the lake area has been transformed. Increased monitoring and planning led to an ecosystem report card that was distributed to communities whose livelihoods had diminished.

“The communities then led their own biodiversity interventions, including mangrove planting and conservation,” said Addepalli Sita Ramakrishna, senior environmental specialist at The World Bank. “Alternative employment in the coir rope business helped secure new income for Lake Chilika’s fishers and their families all year round, and particularly during fishing bans for the spawning of fish and turtles.” Investments continue to foster small and medium business enterprises today.

Odisha is a favorite nesting site for turtles and other wildlife. In 2020, Odisha’s Olive Ridley Sea Turtles -- designated a vulnerable species -- came out in force, nesting during the day on the dry beach for the first time since 2013. The hatcheries and conservation centers of Odisha will continue to be critical to this reemergence. The Olive Ridley turtle numbers increased from 90,000 in 2006 to 1.11 million turtles in 2018, in part due to the interventions, fishing bans, and the increased capacity of the Department of Fisheries supported by the project.

Mapping a coastline and its hotspots

More than 40 percent of India’s coast shows aggravated erosion. The Bank-funded ICZM work included the first hazard mapping of the entire 7,500- kilometer coastline of India.  A national database has also been developed that catalogues about 10,000 species as well as existing mangroves sites, coral reefs and turtle nesting sites.

Infrastructure and research facilities have been established as part of the project and employees trained in wildlife protection—especially hatcheries and conservation centers. Shelters (14 in Odisha and 24 in West Bengal) were built to protect people during the cyclone season—which were used to protect people in the past few weeks. In 2020, many of these shelters were used as COVID-19 care centers. 

These pilot investments to support coastal communities and their environment provide best practices that are ripe for replication, and help chart a course toward better conservation, biodiversity, and secure livelihoods on India’s coast.

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