Two years after the devastating Tsunami, are Asian countries managing their coastal areas and resources more rationally and scientifically?
As the memories of the Tsunami fade, is there a danger that its important environmental lessons might also be forgotten?
What are the best strategies to balance ecosystem conservation with survival imperatives of millions of poor people in Asia?
On the eve of the mega-disaster’s second anniversary, an investigative new regional documentary from TVE Asia Pacific raises these important questions. In search of answers, it talks to a cross section of scientists, activists and local community leaders in South and Southeast Asia.
Titled The Greenbelt Reports: Armed by Nature, the half hour documentary is part of a multi-media, multi-country project named The Greenbelt Reports. It investigates challenges in conserving Asia’s coastal greenbelts – coral reefs, mangroves and sand dunes – that offer protection from sea-based disasters, as well as many economic benefits to coastal communities.
The Greenbelt Reports TV series
The Greenbelt Reports also comprises a set of 12 self-contained short films, each 5 minutes in duration, covering case studies from the same countries where Armed by Nature was filmed. See our separate story on the series.
Produced on an editorially independent basis by TVE Asia Pacific (TVEAP) – a regional leader in communicating sustainable development using TV and video – the documentary is now available for broadcast, educational and civil society users worldwide. It comes free of license fee.
In Armed by Nature, TVE Asia Pacific’s production returns to many Asian coasts that were battered by the Tsunami. The documentary was filmed over several months in 2006 in many coastal locations of India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand – the four countries that were hardest hit by the Asian Tsunami.
Soon after the disaster, local people, divers and researchers in different parts of Asia noticed something unusual: coastal locations with mangrove forests, sand dunes or coral reefs had suffered considerably less damage.
Evidently, these natural formations had acted as a protective barrier against wave action. This phenomenon is now called the ‘greenbelt effect’. The TVEAP team went to coastal locations in India’s Tamil Nadu state, Sri Lanka’s Ampara District and Thailand’s Phang Nga Province in search of real evidence.
The evidence is corroborated and explained by scientists of the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation of India, which cooperated with TVEAP in producing this documentary.
Although it captured the popular imagination only recently, the greenbelt effect has been known to scientists for many years. For example, it was noticed when a super-cyclone hit India’s eastern coastal state of Orissa in October 1999.
But the lessons of Orissa were not heeded. Mangroves have been steadily disappearing from Asian coastlines, often replaced by shrimp farms or tourist hotels. Coral reefs and sand dunes were destroyed by indiscriminate fisheries and recreational activities.
The TVEAP production team tries to understand how the greenbelt effect works – and more importantly, how Asia’s remaining greenbelts can be saved. They meet activists, researchers and local communities – all looking for practical ways to achieve this amidst poverty and under-development.
“This film is based on science, but as with all our documentaries, it is not immersed in science,” says TVE Asia Pacific Director and CEO Nalaka Gunawardene, who also scripted the documentary. “Our production teams talked to those with modern knowledge as well as local people with decades or centuries old traditional knowledge in managing coastal greenbelts.”
The documentary shows how countries are now beginning to appreciate the life-saving ‘ecosystem service’ of coastal greenbelts, but “it comes too late to save many of Asia’s greenbelts.”
It adds: “As the region advanced economically, large extents of mangroves and coral reefs were destroyed or degraded. What’s left is under tremendous pressure from poverty and growing human population.”
But all is not lost. There is hope yet for saving the region’s remaining greenbelts.
Across Asia, dedicated individuals and groups are trying out various methods to save, strengthen or bring back coastal greenbelts. Their experience shows that it’s indeed possible to have the greenbelts and use them too.
Trading our common future?
“Many countries in this region are looking at the economic growth, that’s trying to find some foreign currency, looking at the, you know, how many percent of each year GDP is increase, so one thing that many countries in this region do is selling the natural resources with less care about the sustainability…”
- Pisit Charsnoh, head of Yadfon Association, Thailand, and winner of the Goldman Prize for protecting the environment
Based on dozens of interviews and interactions, the documentary has distilled three key strategies for conserving coastal greenbelts under duress:
• Empower local communities
• Balance livelihoods and
• Harness old and new knowledge
Each strategy is illustrated with examples, case studies and insightful interview clips with men and women at the forefront in saving, restoring or managing Asia’s coastal greenbelts.
Some are hopeful while others sound words of caution – among them is Jim Enright, Southeast Asia Coordinator of the Mangrove Action Project.
He says in an interview: “We see great emphasis on building new, even more infrastructure in the coastal areas than even pre-tsunami, if you go to places in Phuket Island, you’ll be amazed to see all the new infrastructure that is being built. So I think the lessons have not been learnt…”
The documentary ends on an optimistic note: “The good news is that more and more local communities and activists are taking up these challenges. Their efforts offer some hope for the beleaguered greenbelts of Asia.”
Armed by Nature and the accompanying TV series will soon be backed by online and print material that provide further information, analysis and links.
Meanwhile, TVE Asia Pacific is offering this series to TV broadcasters, educational institutions and civil society groups anywhere in the world without any license fee or royalty. Only tape copying and dispatch costs will be recovered. Contact:
Armed by Nature is entirely an effort by Asian TV professionals, from conceptualisation to post-production. Stories were filmed by locally-based, internationally credentialed TV professionals under TVE Asia Pacific’s direction. Click here for full credits.
“We are delighted to once again brought together a highly talented group of TV journalists and film-makers who are locally based nationals in these countries,” says Manori Wijesekera, TVE Asia Pacific’s Regional Programme Manager who production managed the effort. “Working with these colleagues has made our series more authentic and credible. Thanks to them, we filmed interviews in a dozen Asian tongues, and accessed locations and stories not easily found by visiting foreign film crews.”
The Greenbelt Reports was researched and produced in consultation with a large number of local, national and regional conservation organizations and research institutes. Among them: M S Swaminathan Research Foundation of India, IUCN – The World Conservation Union, UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Mangrove Action Project, and Wetlands International.
The Greenbelt Reports received the financial support from several conservation organisations, development agencies and media companies. These include the Japan Fund for Global Environment and the Green Coast Project, administered by IUCN Sri Lanka and financed by Oxfam Novib.
The Nation Broadcasting Corporation of Thailand was a co-producing partner for the three stories filmed in Thailand.
Even as it distributes Armed by Nature and the 5-minute film series regionally and globally, TVE Asia Pacific will soon commence research and development on the second series of The Greenbelt Reports. It welcomes more stories, partnerships and offers of support.
Full list of acknowledgements of those who supported The Greenbelt Reports
Full list of production teams associated with The Greenbelt Reports