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—Reuters (File Photo)

KARACHI: Mangrove forests are declining globally at a rate of one per cent a year though a few countries, including India and Pakistan, have had some success in curbing their depletion.

This was stated by speakers at the 9th Regional Steering Committee of the Mangroves for the Future (MFF) meeting, organised by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which began here on Sunday.

Representatives of the eight MFF member countries - Pakistan, India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Republic of Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam - are attending the three-day event with experts from Bangladesh, Cambodia and Myanmar. This year’s theme is ‘Coastal resilience in the wake of climate’.

The MFF coordinator, Dr Steen Christensen, said that coastal ecosystems were facing climate change challenges all over the world but this was particularly true for developing countries. He said that nearly half of the world’s population lived in coastal areas and of them around 70 per cent lived in East Asia and depended on coastal resources for their livelihoods.

Dr Christensen said that collective efforts were required from all sectors to mitigate these effects and ensure protection, food security and adequate livelihood opportunities for the vulnerable communities. He lauded Pakistan for taking commendable measures in good governance for management of its coastal ecosystem since 2010, when it became a member of the MFF.

Forests inspector general Syed Mehmood Nasir said in the wake of the Sandy superstorm in the United States and a tsunami in Japan, it was heartening to see that the a regional initiative like the MFF project was taking steps to deal with imminent dangers threatening vulnerable communities.

The director of the IUCN for Asia, Aban Marker Kabraji, briefed the audience on the escalating pressures of human development on coastal ecosystems. She said that human activities were making the coastal areas more vulnerable to effects of climate change. Giving the example of Thailand, Ms Kabraji said that more than 70 per cent of the mangroves had been cleared for economic activities such as shrimp farming.

Stressing the need for proactive engagement with the private sector, she said that the interests of the private sector were diverse and greatly affected the environment in coastal areas.

She said that success in coastal management would largely depend on the will of the private sector, whether it moved towards sustainable practices and MFF principles. In the coming days, added Ms Kabraji, the MFF’s main focus would be coastal and community resilience.

A 12-point call for action for the conservation and restoration of mangroves, and halting their further depletion was also launched in the opening session. Sharing the details of the 12-point statement, the MFF’s senior adviser Dr Donald Macintosh said that the document emerged after deliberations at the MFF’s regional colloquium held earlier this year in India and summarised the state of mangroves conservation in the region, he added.

Dr Macintosh said that though India, Pakistan and a few other countries had a few success stories to share regarding the conservation of mangroves, in the rest of the world, the forests were still declining by 1pc annually. He said that the 12-point statement called for improving regional cooperation for the protection of mangroves and also served as a guide for taking better decisions.

Javed Jabbar, a former vice president of the IUCN and current regional councillor, stressed on educating people about the importance of mangroves, saying that coasts were conflict zones in terms of the state, communities and corporate interests.

They required dexterous management with balancing conflicting interests.

Mangroves provided many benefits, including food, timber and medicine, besides supporting vital processes like water cycling and providing refuge to breeding fish, crabs and birds. They are also natural protective barriers against storms, land erosion and tidal intrusion.

The Mangroves for the Future began in December 2006. The former president of the US, Bill Clinton, planted the first mangrove tree to launch the MFF initiative in a fishing village on Phuket Island, Thailand.

At the launch of the Tsunami Legacy Report in the United Nations headquarters in New York in April 2009, Mr Clinton had said the MFF had been one of the most positive and forward-looking developments since the tsunami.

The MFF initially focused on countries worst-affected by the tsunami, such as India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, but its members now include Pakistan.