KARACHI - The 9th Regional Steering Committee of the Mangroves for the Future (MFF) initiative was inaugurated in Karachi on Sunday.

Representatives of the eight MFF member countries, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam gathered here to discuss and present the progress in coastal management efforts in their respective countries. They were joined by MFF outreach countries Bangladesh, Cambodia and Myanmar. The theme for the year 2012 is: Coastal Resilience in the wake of Climate Change through Private Sector Engagements.

In his welcome remarks, MFF Coordinator, Dr Steen Christensen said, "All over the world, coastal ecosystems are faced with climate change challenges and this is particularly true for developing countries". Nearly half the global population lives in coastal areas and about 70% in East Asia depend on coastal resources for their livelihoods. "It will require collective efforts from all possible sectors to mitigate these effects and ensure protection, food security and adequate livelihood opportunities for vulnerable communities" he added. He applauded the Government of Pakistan for taking commendable measures in good governance for coastal ecosystem management since becoming a MFF member country in 2010.

In her inaugural speech, Aban Marker Kabraji, IUCN Regional Director Asia, briefed the session about escalating pressures from human development on coastal ecosystems. "Human activities are contributing to the vulnerability of coastal systems and communities to the effects of climate change" she said. "In countries like Thailand for example, more than 70% of the mangrove areas have been cleared for economic activities such as shrimp farming". Coastal and community resilience will be a major focus of the MFF initiative in the coming days. Stressing the need for pro-active engagement with the private sector, she added, "Private sector interests in costal zones are diverse and have a strong impact on coastal zones. Success in coastal management will depend largely on the will of the private sector to move towards sustainable practices and MFF principles."

Speaking on the importance of spreading awareness, chief guest Javed Jabbar former Vice President IUCN and Regional Councilor said, "The task of educating and informing people about their importance of mangroves is immense. There is much to learn from the experiences of different countries in mangroves and costal conservation efforts. Coasts are "conflict zones" in terms of the state, communities and corporate interests and it requires dexterous management to find a balance between conflicting interests. This is a challenge our governments have to overcome". "Communities must be educated and in some cases persuaded to change their rapacious appetite for resource extraction."

Inspector General of Forests MOCC, Pakistan - Syed Mehmood Nasir - on behalf of Mehmood Alam - remarked, "In the wake of the Sandy storm and the Tsunami in Japan, it is heartening to see that the a regional initiative like MFF project is taking steps to respond to imminent dangers to vulnerable communities."

During the opening session a 12 Point Call for Action to conserve and restore mangroves, and halt their further loss and degradation was also launched. Dr. Donald Macintosh, Senior Advisor for MFF shared the details of the 12 Point Call for Action to conserve and restore mangroves. In his opening remarks, he said, "The 12 point statement that emerged from the deliberations at the MFF regional colloquium held earlier this year in India succinctly summarizes the state of affairs of mangroves conservation in the region."

Although India, Pakistan and few other countries have success stories to share, globally mangroves are still in decline by 1% per year. The 12 point Call for Action document underpins an urgent call for better and effective regional cooperation for mangroves protection and serves as a guide for better government decision making. During the occasion, Dr. Hem Pandey Secretary distributed the Colloquium book to the panel.

During the 3-Day sessions the Regional Steering Committee will also discuss the ways our economies are dependent on biodiversity and ecosystem services, while acknowledging that many far-sighted businesses are recognizing opportunities in the greening of investor, client and consumer preferences. Some businesses have made public commitments to ecological neutrality. Even relatively straight-forward ecological restoration as compensation for resource extraction or land use change can deliver biodiversity benefits.