Striking a balance between development and environmental conservation
The concept of a "green economy," advocated by environmental economists, aims to balance environmental sustainability and development projects. It emphasises the mutual benefit of economic growth and environmental sustainability. However, in Bangladesh, a densely populated country, the rate of agricultural land loss exceeds the reported one percent per year. This is because the current practices of development unfortunately ignore the negative impact they can have on the natural environment, water flow, forests, and wildlife habitats.
One major development project undertaken by the government is the Dohazari-Cox's Bazar rail line project, spanning 100km and requiring the acquisition of 1,364 acres of land. Regrettably, this project has encroached upon agricultural land, wildlife sanctuaries, and densely populated areas. Sustainable development necessitates careful consideration of the consequences associated with such initiatives. In this case, the railway line has not only taken up 1,364 acres of agricultural and residential land, but it has also rendered an equivalent or larger area of farmland unusable. Furthermore, the railway has disrupted natural water flow in various locations, leading to the disconnection of water centres and the loss of previous irrigation schemes. As a result, agricultural production in these areas is expected to decline.
Additionally, the railway project has displaced some local communities. Those affected are relocating to new areas with compensation, often choosing agricultural land for their new homes. Consequently, the railway line has had a significant impact on agricultural land in southern Chattogram. The railway project has also created the potential for further urbanisation, which could result in more farmland being occupied.
However, addressing the immense pressure on agricultural land in the area gives rise to a new challenge: the construction of bypass roads. These planned bypass roads, spanning over 20km, would acquire agricultural land and densely populated areas in four locations: Patia, Dohazari, Lohagara, and Chakaria. This will result in the destruction of more agricultural land. In Bangladeshi context, highways often lead to the establishment of settlements and industries on adjacent agricultural land, as observed in the case of the Patia bypass. Along both sides of this bypass, which traverses agricultural land, there has been a rapid proliferation of residential and commercial structures. With the construction of a new 20km bypass, a significant portion of the surrounding farmland will effectively be lost forever and will open up opportunities for new settlement constructions. Is there an alternative?
Luckily, the solution lies within the project itself. While bypass roads are planned in four locations, a flyover has been proposed in one area. Expressways have been successfully implemented in various parts of India. Consequently, the proposed Chattogram-Cox's Bazar highway should be constructed as an expressway, eliminating the need for the 20km bypass road. This approach would allow long-haul vehicles to bypass congested areas, thus safeguarding our agricultural land, natural waterways, and fish resources.
In the pursuit of sustainable development, it is crucial to strike a balance between development and environmental conservation. Development initiatives must prioritise the preservation of agricultural land, forests, water resources, and wildlife habitats. By exploring alternatives and embracing innovative approaches, we can build a greener and more prosperous future for Bangladesh, ensuring that economic growth goes hand-in-hand with the well-being of our environment.
Researcher (International Relations, Climate Change and Forced Migration)