25 January 2005

Asian Tsunami Inflicts Multimillion Dollar Damage on Indonesia’s Environment

New Report Provides Important Lessons for Kobe Conference

(Reissued as received.)

KOBE/NAIROBI, 21 January -- Beyond the horrific loss of human life, the earthquake and resulting tsunami of 26 December 2004 had enormous impacts on Indonesia’s coastal environment, causing damage and loss to natural habitats and important ecosystem functions.

According to a preliminary damage and loss assessment of the disaster carried out by the Government of Indonesia and the international donor community, the economic cost to the environment has been estimated at approximately $675 million.  The UN Environment programme (UNEP) was one of the key contributors to the report.

Commenting on the report, Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said:  “These latest findings from just one of the affected countries show that there have been significant consequences for the environment and for the livelihoods of local people as a result of the tsunami.  They underline how the environment can be both a victim and a buffer against vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters."

This issue, namely the central role of a healthy environment in long-term disaster risk reduction, had been taken on board by delegates at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction which closes tomorrow in the Japanese city of Kobe, he said.

“First and foremost we must continue to respond to the terrible human tragedy and humanitarian relief effort in Indonesia, and other countries affected by the tsunami”, added Mr. Toepfer.

“But, it is clear that the recovery and reconstruction process under way must also invest in the environmental capital of natural resources, the forests, mangroves and coral reefs that are nature’s buffer to such disasters and their consequences”, he said.

Among critical coastal habitats in Aceh and north Sumatra, 25,000 hectares (ha) of mangroves, 30 per cent of 97,250 ha of previously existing coral reefs, and 20 per cent of 600 ha of seagrass beds have been damaged according to the new report.  The economic loss is valued at $118.2 million, $332.4 million and $2.3 million, respectively.

As a result of infiltration of saline water, sediment and sludge, it is estimated that 7.5 kilometres of river mouth is in need of rehabilitation, and hundreds of wells in the rural area need to be cleaned up.

Along the coastal strip, it is estimated that 48,925 ha of forest area was affected, with the assumption that 30 per cent of this area has been lost.  In addition, large areas -- approximately 300 kilometres -- of coastal land area have been degraded or lost.

The report also notes the importance of properly managing the collection, processing and disposal of the huge amount of debris and waste caused by the tsunami.  If not properly managed, wastes may pose a risk to human health, as well as ecological functions.

Local environmental management capacity -- buildings, equipment, staff and records -- have also been significantly affected by the disaster, and the report stresses the importance of early re-establishment of solid waste management and other essential services.

Three major industrial sites are confirmed to be damaged:  Pertamina (oil depot in Krueng/Banda Aceh), Pertamina (oil depot in Meulaboh), and Semen Andalas Indonesia (cement factory in Banda Aceh).  Possible contamination, including negative effects to human health and the environment, caused by damage to these and other industrial installations, are a matter of serious concern.

Mr. Toepfer said the findings in the Indonesia report added a sense of urgency to the ongoing work by UNEP and its partners in the region.

Specific requests for help have so far come from Indonesia, which has asked UNEP to establish an environmental crisis centre, Maldives, which has requested emergency waste management assistance and impact studies on coral reefs and livelihoods, and Sri Lanka and Thailand for environmental impact assessments.

UNEP’s own initial assessment report, or “screening”, of the environmental damage, including damage to natural sea defences, such as coral reefs and mangrove swamps and chemical and waste installations, is expected next month to coincide with the organisation’s Governing Council taking place in Nairobi.

Welcoming the good progress made at the Kobe meeting, Mr. Toepfer said it was now accepted that environmental issues must be fully integrated in disaster preparation and response.  He stressed the importance of tackling the issues at the regional level, particularly in Africa.

He also emphasized the need to adequately address man-made hazards, such as chemical accidents and oils spills, and to implement community-based approaches to disaster reduction such as UNEP’s Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies at the Local Level (APELL) programme.

“The central role of the environment in disaster reduction, whether in early-warning systems or as a factor in reducing risk and vulnerability, has been intensively discussed and integrated into the plan of action coming out of Kobe.  There is now wide acceptance that environmental degradation and depletion of natural buffers increases risks for, and impacts from, natural and man-made disasters”, Mr. Toepfer said.  “Now we need action, targets and a firm timetable of implementation.”

Notes to Editors

"Indonesia:  Preliminary Damage and Loss Assessment" was released in Jakarta on 19 January and is available on UNEP’s web site dedicated to the Asian Tsunami disaster.  See www.unep.org/tsunami.

Details of the twenty-third Session of UNEP’s Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum can be found at www.unep.org/resources/gov.

For more information, please contact:  in Nairobi, Eric Falt, Spokesman/Director, UNEP, Division of Communications and Public Information, tel.: +254 20 623292, e-mail:  eric.falt@unep.org; or Nick Nuttall, UNEP, Head of Media, tel.:  +254 20 623084, mobile:  +254 733 632755, e-mail:  nick.nuttall@unep.org.

In Kobe,please, contact:  Robert Bisset, UNEP, Press Officer,tel.:  +81 90 3466 5423 (until 22 January 2005), e-mail:  robert.bisset@unep.fr

In New York, please, contact:  Jim Sniffen, UNEP, Information Officer, tel:  +1 212 963-8094/8210; info@nyo.unep.org, or visit:  www.nyo.unep.org.

* *** *