Friends of the Earth International is very saddened by the devastating impact of the Asian tsunami which struck several countries in South-East and South Asia on December 26, 04. Thus far 150,000 lives have been lost, while millions more who survived have been displaced and made homeless.

January 4, 2005
Media Advisory – Indian ocean tsunami

Friends of the Earth International itself has suffered, with the painful loss on December 26, 2004 of our dear friend and colleague Mohammad Ibrahim, who was the Banda Aceh-based Executive Director of the Aceh representation of WALHI.
WALHI (The ‘Indonesian Forum for Environment’) is Friends of the Earth International’s member group in Indonesia. It is the largest forum of environmental and social non-governmental organisations, community organisations, and student environment groups in Indonesia with 25 regional representations in 25 provinces and over 430 member organisations.
Mohammad Ibrahim, along with his wife and child, were victims of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated most of Aceh and North Sumatra. Following the tragedy, their bodies were found 10 meters from their home in Banda Aceh.
Mohammad was an inspiring activist who was relentless in his efforts to protect the environment of Aceh and its peoples. We in Friends of the Earth International are deeply pained by his loss and offer our deepest condolences to our friends in WALHI.
Coral Reefs and Mangroves May Have Helped Saved Lives
While the world’s attention is on relief and reconstruction efforts which is indeed most necessary, Friends of the Earth International is heartened to note reports that in areas where there were extensive coral reefs and mangroves forests, the loss of lives and damage appeared to be much less.
According to a Wall Street Journal report (Dec 31st), “The ring of coral in crystal waters around the Surin Island chain off Thailand’s west coast forms a sturdy defense against the sea. So when the tsunami struck on Sunday it punched a few holes in the reef, but the structure mostly held firm. The reef, says Thai marine environmentalist Thon Thamrongnavasawadi, may have saved many lives. Only a handful of people on the islands are known to have perished — most scrambled to safety as the first wave exploded against the coral.”
In another report by the Science and Development Network in India (Dec 30), “When the tsunami struck India”s southern state of Tamil Nadu on 26 December, areas in Pichavaram and Muthupet with dense mangroves suffered fewer human casualties and less damage to property compared to areas without mangroves”.
On Penang Island, the worst affected area in Malaysia, representatives of the Penang Inshore Fishermen Welfare Association observed that in areas where the mangrove forests were intact, there was reduced property damage and less impact on the coast.
Environmentalists from the Centre of Environmental Justice in Sri Lanka also report the same. According to Hemantha Withanage, in areas where there were ‘green belts’ the damage was less or none at all.
Similar observations were made by Indian scientists when a ‘super-cyclone’ in October struck Orissa on India’s east coast, killing at least 10,000 people and leaving 7.5 million homeless. Scientists found that the existing mangrove forests reduced the impact of the cyclone.
Tragically, the full fury and wrath of the tidal waves were felt in areas where nature’s green belts of coral reefs and mangroves no longer exist or were never present in the first place. In many parts of the affected areas where dense mangroves and coral reefs once acted as natural buffers between the sea and coast, other developments have taken place – from hotels, shrimp farms, coastal highways, housing and commercial development.
For those who were saved by the natural barriers, there is indeed a valuable lesson for all governments. Coastal zones and green belts such as mangroves, coral reefs and other natural barriers must be protected, regenerated and managed in a sustainable way. It is only through having such natural defenses that coastal communities can be protected in the long run from a repeat of what struck these regions on December 26, 2004.

For more information contact Friends of the Earth:
In Indonesia
Helvi Lystiani (Estee) – International Outreach – WALHI – Friends of the Earth Indonesia +62 21 791 93 363 or mobile +62-(0)811-89 53 29 or email
WALHI updates
In Malaysia
Meena Raman, Friends of the Earth International Chair +60-4-8295612 or mobile +60-12-4300042 or email
In Europe
Longgena Ginting (WALHI Director until February 2005)In The Netherlands Tel +31-6-18846365 or email