Report looks at environmental impact of Asian tsunami

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Coastlines already damaged by pollution and man's poor land management suffered more from the southeast Asian tsunami than those with healthy coral reefs and other natural protection, the U.N. environment chief said Monday.

This is one of the conclusions of a United Nations interim report on the environmental impact of the tsunami that is estimated to have killed at least 170,000 people in 11 countries in Asia and Africa, U.N. environment agency Executive Director Klaus Toepfer told world environment ministers.

The report will be made public Tuesday during the weeklong meeting of the U.N. Environment Program's top decision-making body, UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall said.

"Those coastlines with intact coral reefs, mangroves, vegetated dunes and robust coastal forests came off better than those degraded by pollution and insensitive land use," Toepfer said.

"So the environment is not a luxury ... It is an economically important insurance policy whose wisdom we ignore at our peril," he said.

"Coral reefs and mangroves are absolutely vital in safeguarding people living in those areas," Marion Cheatle, UNEP's senior environmental affairs officer, told journalists during the launch of a U.N. report reviewing the major environmental issues of 2004.

The report, "Geo Year Book 2004/5," quotes a preliminary report by an Indian institute that showed mangrove forests in Pitchavaran and Muthupet regions of south India acted like shields and bore the brunt of the tsunami.

Tens of thousands of people are still missing, presumed dead from the December tsunami that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates cost the fishing industries of the seven countries hit hardest by the catastrophe U.S. $520 million (euro 398.3 million).

On Thursday, the Rome-based U.N. food agency said 111,073 fishing vessels were destroyed or damaged; 36,235 engines were lost or damaged beyond repair; and 1.7 million units of fishing gear -- such as nets, tackle, and similar equipment -- were destroyed. The seven countries studied are India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Toepfer also said that for UNEP to be more effective he is immediately going to invest 30 percent of the agency's reserve funds in UNEP'S regional offices so that they may deal better with issues that are relevant to the countries they cover.


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