Associated Press, Mon April 3, 2006 06:00 EDT . MICHAEL CASEY - AP Environmental Writer - The study, published in April's edition of the journal Estuarine and Coastal Shelf Science, also warned that governments in India and Sri Lanka - are offering a false sense of security and displacing scores of residents unnecessarily by proposing green belts and buffer zones in areas hard hit by the massive waves. The World Conservation Union, also known as IUCN, and other nongovernmental organizations earlier reported that mangroves saved lives in Sri Lanka - and India a finding they said could motivate hard-hit communities across Asia to consider replanting mangroves.
A quarter of mangroves have been destroyed in tsunami-impacted countries since the 1980s due to development and the rapid growth of shrimp and fish farms.
But Baird, of James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, and his co-authors argued that governments would be better off putting their resources into an early warning system and evacuation plans. They also called for many coastal communities to be moved to higher ground.
Based on their studies of tsunami-hit villages in India, the authors found the ones that fared better were located at higher elevations and that the presence of mangroves or other vegetation was rarely a factor.
``Our reanalysis revealed that the distance of a village from the coast and the height of the village above sea level explained 87 percent of the variation in mortality among villages,'' the statement quoted Alex Kerr as saying. Kerr, of the University of Guam, is one of the study's co-authors.
``The apparent link between vegetation area and mortality was actually due to the fact that more vegetation grows at higher elevations above sea-level and the greater the distance from the sea, the greater the area of vegetation,'' he said.
IUCN found that only 2 people died in the Sri Lankan village of Kapuhenwala which was surrounded by 200 hectares (500 acres) of dense mangroves and scrub forest. In contrast, nearly 6,000 people died in the nearby village of Wanduruppa, where mangrove forests had largely been cut down before the disaster, it said.
A separate study released in October by researchers led by Finn Danielsen of the Nordic Agency for Development and Ecology in Copenhagen, Denmark, reached similar conclusions.
The IUCN has started restoring hundreds of hectares (acres) of mangroves in Sri Lanka - and southern Thailand which were destroyed by the 2004 tsunami. It also launched Mangroves for the Future, a US$45 million (euro38 million) program that aims to build natural barriers of mangroves in twelve countries in Asia and Africa.