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Plenary 3 - Should Inhabited Coastal Areas be defended or abandoned? (Afternoon session),
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23/10/2009 21:00

Urgent steps to restore coastal wetlands and barrier islands in the United States must be taken immediately to protect the local populations from rapid sea level rise, delegates were told today.

Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, said that changes had to be made to the 'super susceptible' coastal areas around New Orleans in order to prevent another 'man-made catastrophe with a hurricane trigger' like Katrina.

“There are still some scientists...saying, 'We've got to keep it the way it is.' It's too late for that now,” he said, insisting that the way that Louisiana dealt with its low-lying coastal zones would be a model for the rest of the country.

“This is a national problem. New Orleans is just the first,” he said. “Do we as a nation have the will or the money?”

While van Heerden focused on concrete efforts to combat the flood Gerry Galloway of the Glenn L Martin Institute and the University of Maryland told delegates that the theoretical process of determining risk should form the basis of US flood protection policy.

Working out who should be given flood protection, and how much, was of paramount importance, he said. “We must prioritise areas based on risk...We've got to defend those areas that are crucial to the nation,” he said. “And we need to start now.”

Faced with the controversial question of whether those zones most endangered should be abandoned or defended, the speakers agreed that the strategy should depend on the particular circumstances of each location.

Jerome Delli Priscoli, advisor on international water issues to the US Army Corps, said the decision should be made only after taking into account issues including where populations would be moved to and what relocation regulations would be followed.

Galloway acknowledged that, while the sea level rise threatened many places in the US including iconic locations such as Manhattan and Miami Beach, some places 'are just too big to move'. “It's not going to be possible in the near future to have New York city moved,” he pointed out.

Outlining his view of the issue's ethical aspect, Delli Priscoli called for a 'new ideological and ethical consensus' on what do with the world's water. The approach should be based, he said, on a 'preference to the poor' and a need to find a 'new understanding of humans and nature.'

By Lizzie Davies

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