As Odisha braces for super cyclone Phailin, a coastal village hopes the mangrove it nurtured will protect their homes
As Odisha braces for a super cyclone that is likely to make a landfall on Saturday evening, thousands of villagers are being evacuated to shelter homes. Some of them are also leaving behind the mangrove forests which they believe have rescued them from cyclones and storms in the past.
Praharajpur village in coastal Odisha's Kendrapada district is one such village whose residents are leaving their mud houses, but with a hope to come back and lead a normal life. Their hope is the 40 hectare dense lush green patch of mangrove forest that has been protecting this village from each and every cyclone for the last 30 years.
“The super cyclone of 1999 is the worst among all the storms I have seen. Hundreds of people died in the neighbouring villages. We lost only two people, that too because a mud wall collapsed because of severe rains. The powerful sea waves were contained by the island (mangrove),” said Ravindra Behera, a resident of this village. He now hopes that this year also the forest will save them.
It was a research done by a team of scientists from Delhi University and Duke University in 2009 which showed that the villages with wider and more mangroves between them and the coast witnessed considerably fewer deaths than the ones with sparse or no mangroves. However, the villagers of Praharajpur had realized the importance of these trees as a shield against the storms much earlier in 1982 itself.
The village is located on the delta of the Bhadrak river. “Our elders had made an embankment along the coast to prevent soil erosion from the river in 1975. They randomly planted mangrove trees on the embankment. Gradually, this plantation converted into a mangrove forest. However, it was during the 1982 cyclone that we realized that mangrove can also prevent the storm from reaching us,” said Balram Biswal, another resident.
Thereafter, the villagers aggressively started planting mangroves on the island and also made provisions in the village to protect the forests. “We constituted a 15-member forest protection committee from among the villagers. The body penalised anyone who damaged the forests in any possible way and a night guard was appointed and paid Rs 100 per night to protect the mangrove,” said Behera, a resident.
Today, a dense forest of tall mangrove trees stands between the sea and Praharajpur. Apart from a shield from cyclone, the residents also get wood, honey and fruits from the mangrove. “The story of Praharajpur has also inspired the nearby villages to plant and protect mangroves coasts. We hope that the forest comes to their rescue as well,” said Suresh Bisoi of non-profit Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (RCDC).
Mangroves thinned out in 60 years
Though the mangrove cover has increased to a certain extent in Odisha in the past 10 years, it is not much as compared to what it was sixty years ago. Total mangrove area in the state fell from 30,766 hectares (ha) to 17,900 ha between 1944 and 1999. As per the Forest Survey of India data, the mangrove cover, however, increased to 22,200 ha in 2011. The Delhi University study also showed that the average width of a forest that stood between the sea and a village across 409 coastal villages in Kendrapara was 1.2 km in 1999, down from 5.1 km in 1944.
“The mangrove cover is still very less in the state as compared to what it was 50 years ago. In the past three decades, the frequency and severity of cyclone has increased significantly and the mangrove cover has continuously decreased. The government should have taken the mangrove plantation drive seriously by now,” said Kailash Dash of RCDC.
As Odisha braces for one of the worst storms, one hopes that maximum number of people will be shielded by these mangroves and might even turn of to be a lesson for the government which is yet to promote mangrove plantation and the protection.
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