The UN has proclaimed May 22 as the International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. The theme for 2019 is “Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health” emphasising the diversity provided by our natural systems for human existence and wellbeing on earth, while contributing to other Sustainable Development Goals, including climate change mitigation and adaptation and ecosystems restoration.
Odisha’s coastal communities are dependent on coastal ecosystem for their livelihoods. Uses of the coastline are generally considered under four categories such as resource exploitation, tourism and recreation and the conservation and protection of biodiversity.
The coastal ecosystems are now highly disturbed and very much threatened, encountering problems like pollution, siltation, erosion, flooding, storm surges, uncontrolled coastal development and other activities due to ever expanding human settlements.
During the pre and post-monsoon period, depressions generated in the Bay of Bengal leading to cyclonic storms of great severity which bring havoc to parts of Odisha’s coastal stretch.
The coast was hit by the Super Cyclone on October 29, 1999 with wind speed ranging from 220/300 km/hr. Fani, India's most severe cyclone in 20 years hit Puri on May 3 with a sustained wind speed of 175-185 km/hr, causing devastation. Puri was the worst-hit, followed by Bhubaneswar.
Because of the availability of timely information on landfall point, velocity of wind, storm surge, etc. loss of lives has been minimised. The cyclone has generated lots of direct impacts such as high tide, intrusion of salt water, water logging etc. which affect livelihood. Higher tides as a result of sea level rise force fishing community people to migrate towards more inland areas and occupy mangrove forest.
Coastal communities therefore have to undertake adaptation measures to buffer against these events. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the linkages between ecosystems and human societies that can help to reduce vulnerability as well as enhance the resilience capacity of these communities.
Human activities encroaching CRZ norms seem to be an outstanding cause of meteorologicaldisaster. Under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 a notification was issued in 1991, for regulation of activities in the coastal area by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
As per the notification, the coastal land up to 500m from the High Tide Line (HTL) and a stage of 100m along banks of creeks, estuaries, backwater and rivers subject to tidal fluctuations, is called the Coastal Regulation Zone(CRZ).Coastal States are empowered to enact the provisions of the CRZ notification.
According to the CRZ notification, the coastal zone encompasses all that land with which the sea has direct contact and also those portions of the land on which the sea has an influence indirectly through tidal action.
As per the notification, the coastal stretches are categorized into different zones and certain activities are restricted and regulated within the particular zone. The main objective of the notification is to conserve the rich and diverse coastal biodiversity and for the better management of the same.
As per the notification, HTL is defined as the line up to which the highest high tide (simply means the highest reach of sea during the highest high tide period) reaches.
In order to safeguard livelihood and property of local communities including the infrastructure along the coastal areas, the hazard line has been introduced taking into account tides, waves, sea level rise and shoreline changes which will be demarcated by the Survey of India.
Generally, the States follow Survey of India (SOI) topographic sheets to fix the HTL and recent satellite data is used to update it wherever there are drastic changes in the shoreline.
The Government, through the CRZ 2018 notification, has lifted the restrictions on construction along the coastal zone.
Benefiting the tourism sector, temporary tourism facilities are also now permissible in the ‘No Development Zone (NDZ). Till now, the construction of toilets, changing rooms, drinking water facilities and temporary shacks on beaches were not allowed but now the Government has permitted the construction of tourists’ facilities up to 10 meters from HTL.
The Government in the CRZ 2018 also reduced the “NDZ” to 20 meters for all islands close to main land coast and for all backwater areas in the main land, in wake of space limitations. The new CRZ will allow construction closer to the sea.
It will boost tourism in terms of more activities, more infrastructure and more opportunities and will certainly go a long way in creating employment opportunities in various aspects of tourism.
The coastal areas are assuming greater importance in recent years owing to increasing human population, urbanisation and accelerated developmental activities.
These activities have put tremendous pressure on the coastal environment. Large-scale CRZ violations have been noticed along sea coast in Odisha. Hotels and recreational facilities along the coast may cause loss of biodiversity due to land use changes.
There are Coastal Zone Management Plans (CZMP) for different States of India. The provision related to Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) in CRZ 2018 notification now reads that the provisions of the notification shall not apply till the Coastal Zone Management Plans (CZMP) are updated according to the provisions of CRZ 2018 notification.
An Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project (ICZMP) is carried out in Odisha. Under this, coastal erosion, hydrodynamic processes on the coast, vulnerability to coastal hazards, biodiversity conservation and pollution problems have been addressed.
Sustainable development of coastal ecosystems may reduce the pressure on them and also help in preserving biological diversity. The coast should be left free to combat against sea level rise and high tide.
The coastal areas which have more potential for tourism development may develop infrastructure in the areas permissible by CRZ notification. Besides, there is a need to prepare proper shoreline management plan to ensure sustainable maintenance of coastal morphology, solution to coastal erosion and prevention of salt water intrusion into agricultural fields and other habitation.
(Dr Praharaj teaches at Department of Architecture, College of Engineering and Technology, Bhubaneswar)