Yesterday was World Environment Day, the theme was, "Time for Nature", which entails saving our natural resources. But reports in the media and by environmentalists give us a grim picture of how we have made ourselves more vulnerable by our disregard for conservation and preservation of one of our most precious natural resources—our forests. For Bangladesh we must also add our rivers as part of the national treasure.
According to a report in this paper, Bangladesh has lost around five lakh acres of forestland or 10 percent of forests since independence and the loss continues due to illegal forest grabbing. Forrest department records show that over the years, the government has allocated 1.60 lakh acres of forestland to various government and non-government agencies for infrastructure construction. Meanwhile district administrations have leased out around 50,000 acres of forest, and vested quarters have grabbed 2.87 lakh acres of forestland across the country. There is no question that development has to take priority for a country like ours but it cannot be at the cost of our natural resources.
So while we are trying to combat a deadly pandemic we cannot forget about our need to address such man-made environmental degradation. Environmental experts have repeatedly reminded us how important it is to minimise the negative impacts of cyclone, storms, floods, river erosion and landslides intensified by climate change. We have already seen how the Sundarbans took the brunt of Cyclone Amphan that would have had far more devastating effects and taken many more lives had it not been for our mangrove forest. An expert in an opinion piece has emphasised the need to enhance nature-based management initiatives using modern approaches to manage disasters. These are sustainable solutions that make sure that both nature and livelihoods are protected. The Sundarbans absorb the shocks of storms and cyclones and erosion while providing livelihoods to the communities living there and providing habitats for precious wildlife and plant-life. Forested slopes reduce the risk of mudslides and absorb the toxic carbon. The need to preserve whatever forest area is left cannot be emphasised enough.
Then we have our rivers and water bodies—the lifelines of our country. This paper has relentlessly campaigned for protection of our rivers as have environmentalists and citizens groups. Even the High Court has declared rivers as living beings that must be protected. But despite the glaring effects of river encroachment, riverbanks continue to be grabbed and killed with toxic waste, water bodies filled in or dumped with garbage, blocking natural drainage systems, causing floods and stripping away livelihoods.
Such blatant decimation of our natural resources has to stop if we are to survive. While illegal land grabbing and tree cutting can be prosecuted, how do we deal with such activities under the legal banner of developmental activities? It is therefore up to the state to revise development projects and put a stop to those activities that will entail denuding our grossly diminished forest coverage further, kill or maim our rivers and make our other crucial water bodies disappear. Thus all post-Covid-19 development must incorporate protection of the environment.