From: Tracee Herbaugh, Associated Press
Published November 1, 2006 12:00 AM

Former U.S. President Clinton Champions Mangrove Forest Recovery Efforts

UNITED NATIONS — Former U.S. President Bill Clinton lent his humanitarian heart to yet another cause: protecting the mangrove forests along the coastlines of countries affected by the 2004 tsunami, which he has made a special cause.

Clinton, who is the U.N. special envoy for tsunami recovery, participated in a meeting Tuesday focused on mangrove rehabilitation with donors and ambassadors from India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Thailand -- some of the 11 countries affected by the tsunami, which left more than 213,000 dead.

"Environmental recovery is a critical component of the tsunami reconstruction process, a clear example of 'building back better' and I hope the model for future efforts in other parts of the world," Clinton said. "I think it's very important to know how much good this will do in preventing future disasters."

Clinton has visited several of the countries that were inflicted with damage caused by the tsunami, including Indonesia, which suffered the worst, with a death toll of more than 131,000 people and a half-million left homeless.

The World Conservation Union and the U.N. Development Program launched a US$62 million (euro48.83 million) mangrove conservation plan last month called "Mangroves for the Future." The five-year project will fund ecosystem restoration and sustainable development in the countries affected by the tsunami.

"It is a powerful concept, by protecting the environment, communities are able to promote economic well-being, secure their futures and protect themselves and their families," Clinton said.

Shortly after the 2004 tsunami, planting mangroves became the rage among non-governmental organizations who saw it as a way to promote the environment and employ locals. Despite tens of thousands of seedlings that were planted in coastal areas, however, experts say mangroves have been on a steady decline.

According to Achim Steiner, director for the U.N. Environment Program, mangrove reforestation is "not a simple business" like many would believe it to be.

He said in the last 25 years almost 12 percent of mangroves have been lost due to the changing coastal environment caused by pollution and the release of raw sewage into coastal zones.

Organizations must look for "suitable areas," where there is an economic need for mangrove forests, as well as local interest in preserving them, Steiner said.

"Even though cameras and attention has moved on from the tsunami, people are still in the early phase of rebuilding their lives," he said. "This project is part of the longer term response ... this is the beginning of a very exciting initiative that is going to make a difference to thousands of miles of coastal zone and territory in the Indian Ocean and millions of people."

At Tuesday's meeting, Clinton received concrete expressions of new financial support totaling US$10 million (euro7.88 million) for the mangrove project from Norway, Sweden, Germany, Australia, the UNDP and the UN Environment Programme.

Source: Associated Press

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