Bangladesh to seek World Heritage aid for Sundarbans
Friday, 07 December 2007

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh will seek emergency funds from the World Heritage Centre to restore the ecosystem and biodiversity of the Sundarbans mangrove forest, badly mauled by last month's killer cyclone, officials said on Wednesday.

Cyclone Sidr, which struck the Bangladesh coast on November 15 with winds of 250 kph (155 mph), killed around 3,500 people, made millions homeless and destroyed a large part of the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to the Royal Bengal Tiger.

Forest officials said they had found two dead tigers and several deer following the cyclone, the worst to hit Bangladesh since 1991, when a storm killed around 143,000 people.

Officials said better preparedness and an advance warning system had helped save many people this time, but the vast mangrove forest had also largely offset the impact of the cyclone, which triggered a 5-metre (16-ft) water surge from the Bay of Bengal.

According to the forest department's preliminary estimate, the financial loss caused by Sidr to the mangroves would top 10 billion taka ($145 million), and experts say it might be more.
"Bangladesh is preparing a letter asking emergency funding from the World Heritage Centre for immediate rehabilitation of infrastructure in the Sundarbans," said Shafayat Hossain, a senior official at the Environment and Forest Ministry. "After final assessment of total damage to the Sundarbans, we will formally seek assistance from the WHC," he said.

Bangladesh has banned logging, fishing, and breaking honey-hives in the entire Bangladesh part of the Sundarbans for a year, a spokesman for the environment and forest ministry said.
Fakhruddin Ahmed, head of Bangladesh's interim government, told donors that Dhaka would need around $150 million to restore damage to the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove area.

"In the backdrop of Sidr, we need to mobilize resources not only for a major forestation program in the coastal belts, but also to restore the flora and fauna of the Sundarbans," Fakhruddin said.

At least 60 percent of the 6,000 sq km (2,320 sq miles) mangrove swamps that lies within Bangladesh, home for more than 400 Royal Bengal tigers, was devastated, forest officials said. The Sundarbans stretch for another 4,000 sq km (1,545 sq miles) into India's eastern state of West Bengal.
Denmark on Wednesday backed Bangladesh's recent appeal to the international community for $1 billion assistance for rehabilitation and reconstruction following the cyclone.

"I am pleased to see that the people of Bangladesh have already started reconstruction," Ulla Tornaes, Denmark's minister for Development Cooperation, told a news conference in Dhaka after visiting cyclone affected areas in Bangladesh.

Denmark has pledged $4 million aid for emergency relief, long-term reconstruction and climate change adaptation in Bangladesh, she said.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Additional reporting Masud Karim and Nizam Ahmed; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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