Random cutting down of trees for firewood in and around Tanguar Haor, the 100km wetland in Sunamganj, is slowly destroying its ecosystem.
The area was declared a Ramsar Site, a wetland site designated of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, on January 20, 2000. Tanguar Haor is the second natural wildlife habitat in Bangladesh to be declared a Ramsar Site; the first is the Sundarbans.
The haor has also been declared an Ecologically Critical Area by the government in 1999 and it was to be protected by a committee, formed in 2003 by the district administration.
But over the years, the committee has apparently failed to protect the haor. Locals fish there and hunt birds without any permits and the place is flooded with tourists throughout the year.
However, indiscriminate cutting down of trees in the area has caused the most damage, environmentalists said.
During a recent visit to the haor, this correspondent found that a huge number of trees had been cut down from the reserved areas, even from those adjacent to the watch towers built to protect the haor.
According to the administration and environment conservation sites, there are a good number of rare trees in the swamp forest. Hijol (Barringtonia acutangula) and Charach (Pongammia pinnata) are the main plants of the wetland which have little value as timber but are used as firewood.
Shofiqul Alam, convenor of Sunamganj Paribesh Andolon, said locals cut down trees for firewood but the authorities have never been able to control it.
He claimed that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has worked for years here alongside the district administration to develop co-management of the haor to protect the wetland but have failed to do anything and the indiscriminate tree cutting has increased over the years.
Trees are important for the wetland as they are the source of food and shelter for birds. The natural beauty of the haor is also dependent on trees.
Environmentalists of Sylhet and Sunamganj have been demanding effective protection for the haor for years.
According to the district administration there are only 10 policemen, 24 Ansar men and a magistrate assigned to protect the haor that stretches over 100km.
When contacted, Deputy Commissioner Sheikh Rafiqul Islam said they were not aware of the rampant tree cutting in the area and that they would take action soon.
He said, “We have a few law enforcers protecting the large wetland and because of that many locals get away with cutting trees and other such activities. We will take action after visiting the spot.”