Supporting the Grassroots in Tsunami Reconstruction and Global Coastal Protection

April 11, 2005 | No Comments

Mangroves, Tonle Sap, Cambodia; Photo by Todd Adams

The Southeast Asia tsunami struck at the heart of many of the communities with which we work. Thanks to the response of our grantees, advisors, and donors, we were able to help almost immediately. Four months later, some of the most important work is just beginning.

To help ease suffering, protect the rights of coastal communities, and ensure sustainable reconstruction, Greengrants is offering a way for donors to get contributions to grassroots organizations in affected areas. We also are offering a way for donors to get funds to groups working on coastal challenges worldwide.

Although Greengrants does not normally engage in relief work, we found ourselves in a unique position when this disaster struck. Within the early hours of the crisis, several of our advisors and grantees contacted us with requests for emergency relief funds. At the same time, many donors contacted us for help getting money to the region.

Greengrants makes small grants through an international network of more than 100 grantmaking advisors who help us identify grassroots groups and projects. Thanks to our advisor and grantee network in Southeast Asia, we were able to send wire transfers immediately, allowing several groups to get started before many other larger relief organizations could even gain access to the devastated regions.

The rapid response of many generous donors allowed Greengrants to channel more than $70,000 to local groups in the critical early days of the crisis. We have raised nearly $250,000 to date and continue to make grants for relief and reconstruction. As a coordinated international response relieves immediate needs, Greengrants is taking a strategic approach to ensure that its grants can have a lasting impact helping communities restore coastal ecosystems, rebuild livelihoods, and fully participate in the many redevelopment decisions that will be made in the coming months.

Meeting Immediate Needs and Long-Term Challenges

Despite billions committed to relief by the international community, funds have been slow to reach areas like Banda Aceh. Detailed in an April 6 New York Times article, much of the region looks as it did immediately after the disaster. Access by foreign aid groups is limited, and reconstruction planning seems to be designed with few opportunities for local input. With billions set to flow into Southeast Asia, opportunities for abuse are legion.

Small grants to grassroots groups can circumvent bureaucracy, speed relief efforts, ensure equitability, and greatly improve accountability. It is no substitute for large-scale relief initiatives, but we’ve seen how quickly it can fill the gaps. And this flexibility continues to have value months into the process. Greengrants’ network of locally-based groups will allow our funding to get through even if international organizations are expelled from Aceh.

Further, grassroots groups are able to make a difference with small amounts of money. They work shoulder to shoulder with community members, and they already have the trust and cooperation of local people. Their own grassroots networks have allowed them to form coalitions that are extending their reach and effectiveness.

Perhaps their most valuable contribution is their ability to help local people gain a voice in reconstruction decisions. Refugees throughout Southeast Asia are already learning that they may not be allowed to return to their villages because new forms of coastal development, such as industrial shrimp farms may supplant them. Large infusions of aid at the highest levels of government will exacerbate tendencies to ignore the needs of the weakest citizens, and our grantees can help provide a counterbalance.

Already, grantees have helped initiate negotiations between fishing families in Aceh and the admiral of the Indonesian Navy, who is in charge of local relief operations. Grants are helping fishing communities plan their own reconstruction, obtain legal title to traditional lands, and gain better access to relief organizations and donors.

Most of all, our grantees can help bring sustainable approaches to reconstruction in a region where coastal ecosystems have seen decades of harm. Coastal mangroves proved to be extremely beneficial, protecting nearby communities, while degraded coasts offered no such shielding. In recent years, degraded coasts have also affected the health of fisheries and brought economic decline to coastal communities. Reconstruction is an opportunity to reverse these trends, but without the participation of coastal peoples and Southeast Asia’s environmental community, this opportunity could be squandered, with long-term consequences far more severe than the tsunami itself.

Our goal is to raise $3 million for a three-year year effort to support grassroots groups working to rebuild South Asian coastal areas using sustainable and environmentally-sound practices. If we are certain that our grantmaking networks have the capacity to further increase grants, we will increase this target accordingly. We also plan to raise $3 million for grassroots groups working on marine and coastal issues elsewhere around the world, because degraded coastlines worldwide endanger millions of people and are losing their ability to support fisheries and the coastal communities that depend on them.

For more on these grantmaking opportunities, read on:

South Asia Grassroots Coastal Restoration and Protection Fund

To meet needs in South Asia coastal areas affected by the tsunami, Greengrants is increasing support to environmental and community organizations active in the region. Participation of these groups is essential to ensure that redevelopment efforts are sustainable and responsive to the needs of affected people. It also can help ensure that past coastal development mistakes are not repeated, leading to the further vulnerability of coastal communities and further harm to the region’s coastal and marine resources.

The tsunami’s devastation will affect the people of the region for years to come in ways that are now much less obvious than the destruction on land. Wave damage, sedimentation and debris have destroyed many near-shore marine ecosystems. Damage to coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass beds, peat lands, and estuaries will reduce their ability to provide nursery habitat for local fisheries, and the region’s marine food chain will suffer for years.

Impoverished fishing communities that have struggled with declining yields will now see a catastrophic drop until these areas are restored and thriving. Many grassroots organizations have had invaluable recent experience helping fishing communities restore habitat and protect their fisheries, and with an infusion of help, their techniques could be widely shared and replicated across the region.

On land, the destruction of homes, businesses, tourist facilities and entire villages has created tremendous loss and hardship, and reconstruction presents an opportunity to protect these coastal communities from future harm. Poor sanitation, poor siting of buildings and infrastructure, destruction of estuaries, and other insults can cause grievous harm to local fisheries and set the stage for greater coastal damage and loss of life during storms and tsunamis. Industrial shrimp farming, as one example, has exploded in South Asia in recent years, with a devastating effect on native habitat and the coastline’s ability to resist typhoons.

Support of local groups working in the public interest can help ensure that sustainability is a guiding force in post-tsunami reconstruction. This support can also ensure that the rights of people in remote coastal communities are not disregarded in the rush to rebuild. This can help prevent a host of injustices, counterbalancing tendencies toward corruption and business as usual. Small grants, often as small as a few hundred dollars, can help ensure that local people are fully engaged, that their interests and needs are respected, and that they have the tools, the financial support, and the hope for the future that will be required as they rebuild their lives.

Many grassroots groups in the region, though small, have the capability and experience to participate in redevelopment decisions at the highest levels. Led by dedicated biologists, community development professionals and seasoned activists, these groups offer indispensable perspectives and skills. Through our network of grantmaking advisors in the region, Greengrants will identify and fund key groups to ensure that they have the resources they need to work effectively, strategically, and collaboratively with the many organizations and governments participating in reconstruction.

The aftermath of this tragedy is an unprecedented opportunity to put into wider practice the principles of sustainable development, community engagement, and wild fisheries restoration that are proving themselves on coasts across this region and around the world.

Global Grassroots Coastal Restoration and Protection Fund

To meet increasing threats to coastal communities around the world, Greengrants will increase support to groups helping to improve the health of coastal ecosystems and reduce their vulnerability.

Many coastal areas in the developing world are a disaster waiting to happen. Coasts are increasingly exposed to storm and wave damage due to development, pollution, and other recent changes. Increasing numbers of people are migrating to the coasts and putting further strains on coastal ecosystems as they also put themselves in harm’s way.

The recent tsunami and dozens of catastrophic storms each year demonstrate the fragility of coastlines today. This will almost certainly be compounded by global climate change as ocean levels rise and major storms grow more powerful. Ecosystem protection is rarely as linked to disaster preparedness as it is along the Earth’s coastlines.

Disaster will take other forms as well. Careless development, increased pollution, over-fishing, and loss of coastal nursery habitat—such as mangroves, reefs, and estuaries—threaten the fisheries that coastal communities and entire economies depend upon. In many of the most economically vulnerable places in the world, this has already reached crisis proportions as several regional fisheries have collapsed in recent years.

In many instances, indigenous and traditional coastal communities have the most to lose as coastlines are transformed by development and calamity. Fortunately, our ability to protect their interests usually aligns with an ability to protect coastal resources for all. Our grants help grassroots and community groups explore new strategies and opportunities for protecting coastal areas, and they help local people gain a greater voice in decisions that effect them.

Coastal communities in the Pacific Islands, Latin America, Africa, and Asia are addressing many common challenges, and the solutions they find are often very replicable in other places. Around the world, community-managed marine protected areas are allowing fishing communities to manage and protect the local fisheries they depend upon. New techniques for restoring mangrove stands and sea grass beds are helping to increase local fish harvests and dramatically demonstrating their value to neighboring communities. New tourism development practices are reducing threats to local ecosystems, and new small-scale aquaculture techniques show promise for supporting local economies while protecting local ecological health.

Our goal is to support growth in the number and capacity of grassroots organizations engaged in protecting and restoring coastal and marine ecosystems and to support networks that can ensure the success of individual groups. We believe that grassroots initiatives can have a dramatic impact on coasts around the world and that this is an urgent and critical investment.

To Support Grassroots Coastal Restoration and Protection Efforts:

Global Greengrants Fund is a U.S. 501(c)(3) public foundation that has made more than 2,000 small grants to grassroots environmental groups in developing nations since 1993. Our worldwide network of grantmaking advisors enables Greengrants to support local grassroots efforts often overlooked by other funders. Contributions are tax-deductible according to U.S. law. Our tax ID is: 84-1612422.

Credit Card Donations:
Click here to go to our secure web server for credit card donations. You may designate your gift to either the South Asia or Global Coastal Funds or leave the boxes unchecked for support of all our grassroots efforts.

Check by mail:
Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place, Suite E
Boulder, CO 80301 USA

Wire Transfers and Stock Donations:
Contact Global Greengrants Fund at 1.303.939.9866, or

Foundation Proposals, Donor-Advised Funds, Bequests, Long-Term/Endowment Support:
To discuss receiving a proposal from Greengrants, setting up a donor-advised fund, bequests, long-term support or endowment support contact Heather Ryan at 1.303.939.9866, ext. 111, or

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