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Land Reclamation

Context: Many places around the world have undertaken coastal land reclamation projects, intended to drain the water and use the land for multiple purposes.

What is Land Reclamation?

  • Land reclamation is the process of developing new land from oceans, seas, riverbeds or lake beds. In the current context, it refers to extending land into previously submerged areas.
  • Purpose of land reclamation:
    • Coastal economic zones: In the developing world, the increased economic importance of coastal zones has generated a rush to claim new coastal land for luxury residential, upscale commercial and industrial space.
    • Infrastructure: Land is reclaimed from sea for the purpose of building infrastructure such as roads, bridges, ports etc.
    • Agriculture: In many parts of Netherlands, land reclamation allowed practice of agriculture. In absence of land reclamation practices, the land would have been flooded.
    • Aquaculture: The original submerged area could be divided and barricaded to create individual ponds, which serve as a place for practicing aquaculture.
    • Artificial islands: In cities such as Dubai, artificial islands have been created through land reclamation.
    • Restoring original beaches: Beaches suffering due to coastal erosion can be repaired through land reclamation practices.

Land Reclamation Status Across The World

  • Studies have shown that reclamation projects in 106 cities around the world had altogether created around 2,530 square kilometers of coastal land.
  • About 90% of new land was created in East Asia, mostly for the purpose of industry and port facilities catering to the globalized economy.
  • Between 2000 and 2020, Shanghai alone added around 350 square kilometers of new land, with Singapore and Incheon (South Korea) also raising vast new areas.

Different methods of Land Reclamation

  • Artificial enclosure: Land reclamation is traditionally carried out by building a series of dikes to enclose tidal marshes or shallow offshore waters and draining these enclosures to create dry land.
  • Dumping excavated material: Soil and stone could also be excavated from the mainland and dumped along the shore, gradually expanding the land into the sea.
  • Diverting streams: Streams carrying additional sediment can be diverted into these areas, building up the land to a higher level.
  • Artificial pumping: In case the intended coastal land was below sea level, water has to be pumped out through sluices and discharged into the sea.

Advantages of Land Reclamation

  • No existing restrictions: Newly reclaimed land allows urban planners to design urban spaces from scratch, without having to worry about relocation or compensation of existing residents.
  • Creating buffer zones: Land can be reclaimed to create buffer zones that prevent populated areas of the city/town. This buffer zone can include mangroves or marshes that perform ecological functions.
  • Protection of vulnerable species: Plants and animals facing the threat of sea level rise can be protected through land reclamation. This is particularly applicable in low lying areas.
  • Groundwater recharge: Land reclamation may result in increase of fresh groundwater resource because the reclaimed land can be an additional groundwater sink.

Concerns associated with Land Reclamation

  • Risk of flooding: Land reclamation projects do not take into account the risk posed by rising sea levels, as a result of climate change.
  • Storm surges: As climate change is intensifying, the risk posed by disasters is increasing. Storms have been witnessed in previously unaffected areas.
  • Destruction of coastal ecosystems: Land reclamation projects have previously destroyed coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs, mangroves, marshes and wetlands. This is mainly due to suspended sediments in coastal waters.
  • Illegal mining: In order to fill the reclaimed land, large amount of soil and other materials are required. These materials are being obtained through illegal mining in forested areas.
  • Destroy ocean ecosystem: In order to reclaim land, many companies are resorting to extraction of sand from ocean floor. This practice is destroying ocean ecosystems.
  • Land subsidence: Reclaimed lands are vulnerable to land subsidence during events such as earthquakes. This threatens the lives and properties of residents.

Way Forward

  • Coastal land reclamation is a costly engineering practice that has the potential to disrupt local communities and livelihoods permanently.
  • Despite all the concerns and challenges, the practice will continue as it provides a solution for many countries around the world to address its more pressing needs for increased development and urbanization.
  • Countries are already spending large amounts of money to include “future-ready” reclamation techniques as well as reinforcing and elevating existing coastal defenses.
    • However, the best solution in the current scenario would be to use demolished construction waste for land reclamation.

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