Op-Ed: Focus Back On Coastal Erosion

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Odisha’s first geo-synthetic tube wall at Pentha in coastal Kendrapara, the only example of state-of-the art technology being used in the state to fight erosion, is in news again but for the wrong reasons. According to reports in a section of the local media a portion of the 600-metre structure raised in 2016 under the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) programme caught fire on Saturday night.

While the incident is subject to inquiry it has brought the issue of coastal erosion and the need for an effective strategy against it back into focus. The wall at Pentha had come up at a cost of around Rs.39 crore to save the village from being engulfed by the sea which had been eating into the landmass in the area consistently and with extreme ferocity.

But coastal erosion is not a problem typical to Pentha or Kendrapara district. It is a much wider phenomenon being witnessed in different parts of the state. Parts of Puri and Ganjam districts have been badly hit by erosion caused by sea waves which have been battering the coast with ever increasing energy. The sea is getting rough and rougher in several parts of the state.

In Kendrapara itself several other areas along the sea shore have suffered erosion. The most glaring example is that of Satbhaya village whose entire population had to be relocated alongwith the temple of the local deity following the threat of being swallowed by the marauding sea.

Huge sea waves had also played havoc in the holy town of Puri a few years ago, causing several breaches in the beach front road alongwith a large number of hotels and shops are located. Taken aback the authorities had sought to contain the damage by placing boulders and sandbags near the eroded portion of the road.

The sea has also been quite rough at several places in Ganjam district. Local fishing community leaders like K. Alleya have raised the issue several times but an effective strategy to check the damage is yet to be found. Statistics show that more than 36 per cent of the state’s 480 km coastline is facing the threat of erosion and more areas might become vulnerable to the phenomenon.

The geo-synthetic tube wall at Pentha was supposed to be the state’s answer to the challenge posed by coastal erosion but experience shows that it is not a fool-proof technology. Besides it is too costly to be replicated in a poor state like Odisha.

State government will do well to seek fresh expert opinion on the issue which has assumed serious proportions threatening life and property. An effective strategy to fight the menace should be evolved as fast as possible. And till we have an effective strategy in place people should be advised against staying too close to the shoreline in areas where the problem of erosion has become acute. Measures like relocation of population from vulnerable areas should be initiated immediately to ensure the safety of people. Nothing is more precious than human life.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)