Laws there, but not commitment
The government needs to show its commitment in conserving the country's environment and restoring its ecosystem, speakers said at an online discussion yesterday.
Though there is a sufficient number of relevant laws, policies, and rules regarding environment conservation, they need to be enforced effectively, the speakers said.
The association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD) and Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) along with The Daily Star organised the discussion on "Ecosystem Restoration: Necessary Laws and Policies in Bangladesh".
During her presentation, BELA Chief Executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan said Bangladesh is one of the top countries in terms of declining waterbodies.
There are 29 rivers which have been facing acute pollution, while in 48 districts there are 49,162 instances of forest land grabbing. Moreover, uncontrolled sand and stone lifting has also reached an alarming level, she said.
"Laws are not being implemented due to absence of commitment," she said, adding, there are some laws which required amendment.
ALRD Executive Director Shamsul Huda said powerful and influential people have been historically involved in the grabbing of rivers and forest land, but little can be done against them.
He also said relevant institutions for environmental conservation are not functioning accordingly. If they were, there would have been thousands of cases to deal with in the "environment court".
Shamsul said lack of responsibility in conserving the environment could be fatal and the future generations may have to pay the price.
Chakma Circle Chief Raja Devasish Roy said both the state actors and non-state actors have important roles to play in restoring the ecosystem, and there's a need for synergetic action between them.
He also said there is a huge gap between the age-old forest act and the relevant policies for its implementation.
"Conservation of forests will not see success if people dependent on forests for livelihood are not being included in the process," he added.
Khushi Kabir, chairperson of ALRD and coordinator of Nijera Kori, said what is taken from the nature should be returned so that the nature can replenish and give back again.
She stressed for ensuring accountability of relevant authorities in this regard.
Addressing as chief guest, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, lawmaker and chair of the Parliamentary Committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, said forming a "rapid response cell" could be a way forward towards addressing violation of environment related laws.
Besides, conducting audits is a necessity for ensuring ecosystem restoration, he said. "If given enough time, nature can heal itself," he said.
Prof Manzoorul Kibria of Chattogram University said tobacco farming in upstream and establishing power plants near the river bank have caused harm to the unique ecosystem of the river Halda.
Scientific knowledge has to be applied to ensure ecosystem restoration, said Prof Dilip Kumar Datta of environmental science discipline at Khulna University.
Citizens have to be included for environment conservation since one party cannot do it alone, said IUCN Bangladesh Country Representative Raquibul Amin.
Shamim Alrazi, additional secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, said they have already identified the grabbers and amount of forest land grabbed.
Further work is underway in this regard, he said.
Ziaul Haque, director (Dhaka division), Department of Environment; Tuhin Wadud, associate professor at Begum Rokeya University, Rangpur; Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Adibashi Forum; journalist Hasibur Rahman; and Rafiqul Alam, executive director, Run, Barishal; among others, spoke at the discussion.