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Study: Sea level rise could severely affect Caribbean coastal wetlands

Tuesday, March 05, 2013    

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WASHINGTON, DC, USA (CMC) — A new World Bank study says a rise in sea levels by a metre from climate change could destroy more than 60 per cent of the Caribbean and the developing world's coastal wetlands currently found at one metre or less elevation.

The study says this could lead to economic losses of about US$630 million annually.

The World Bank analysis considered a variety of types of coastal wetlands at risk in 76 countries and territories, using a number of databases and satellite maps.

According to the data, about 99 per cent of the coastal wetlands, at elevations of one metre or less in the Middle East and North Africa, could disappear, as well as 77 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, 66 per cent in East Asia, and 39 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The World Bank said, in recent years, coastal wetlands have been disappearing more quickly than other ecosystems, mainly because of land development

The Washington-based financial institution said sea level rise from climate change will exacerbate these losses, adding that the rise in sea levels will lead to wetlands being submerged, pushed inland, or blanketed with salt.

"How those wetlands fare will vary, depending on the slopes and water flows in the surrounding area," the bank said.

Susmita Dasgupta, a lead environment economist at the bank's Development Research Group, said the findings are "alarming, because wetlands don't exist just for the birds and plants. People rely on them for water, food, transportation, and other essential goods and services".

Dasgupta, who co-authored the study with colleague Brian Blankespoor and consultant Benoit Laplante, said "we hope our research can motivate steps to protect wetlands, especially since global warming will for sure accelerate the rise of sea levels".

She said the resulting economic losses from coastal wetland destruction will be in addition to other coastal impacts, such as the forced relocation of people and infrastructure.

An earlier study co-authored by Dasgupta predicted that 60 million people in the Caribbean and developing countries would be forced out of their homes if sea levels rise by one metre.

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