Protected land at risk of encroachment by developers, expert says
Bangladesh has made significant strides in protecting its biodiversity in recent years, but the government must stay vigilant against threats to wildlife, zoology experts told Dhaka Tribune.
The total area of protected land in the country increased by 60% over the last 10 years, but even these protected areas are falling prey to development activities, said Mohammed Mostafa Feroz, professor of Zoology at Jahangirnagar University and a lead assessor of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list.
The Chittagong Hill Tract is a major part of the country’s biodiversity, but animals there are facing extinction due to habitat destruction and commercial poaching, he said.
“Moreover, anthropogenic activities such as construction, unplanned tourism and land conversion towards fruit and other commercial plantations are also big factors behind losing our animals,” added the professor when contacted by this correspondent on the occasion of World Animal Day, observed annually on October 4.
Shahriar Caesar Rahman, chief executive of the Creative Conservation Alliance, emphasized the need to change the people’s mentality towards conservation.
“People of our country are not used to the idea of conservation because the practice is merely 15-20 years old. It’s impossible to protect even a single species without the will of people. The problem of illegal encroachers and poachers makes this more difficult,” he further said.
According to the Department of Forests, the total forest area of Bangladesh is 2.6 million hectares, which is nearly 17.4% of the total land area of the country. About 400,000 hectares of this land is protected for wildlife.
Are development activities encroaching on protected land?
The development activities of the government recently created controversy when reports emerged that a 500-bed multi-specialized hospital and a 100-seat medical college was to be constructed in the Central Railway Building (CRB) area of Chittagong.
Members of civil society in Chittagong conducted a mass signature campaign in August to prevent construction of the hospital, as the CRB area is protected.
During the inauguration of the signature campaign on August 25, Chittagong Civil Society Chairman Dr Anupam Sen said: “The CRB must be protected in the interest of Chittagong. No one has the right to destroy a protected area like the CRB. The people of Chittagong do not want any private hospital on the graves of the martyrs by destroying the natural environment of CRB.”
He added: “The people of Chittagong will not accept the destruction of CRB, a historical place of Bangladesh with natural beauty, centuries-old trees, hills, and valleys.
Earlier on August 3, Chittagong City Corporation Mayor Md Rezaul Karim Chowdhury vowed to resist the planned construction of the hospital in the CRB area, considered the port city’s hub of natural oxygen.
However, in June, Project Director and Bangladesh Railway Additional Chief Engineer (Bridge/East) Mohammad Ahsan Jabir said all environmental guidelines would be followed in the construction of the hospital.
“We are building this multi-specialized hospital to cater to the needs of our people. Some small and younger trees may be felled for construction, but no centennial trees are situated in the project area. Even if we find one or two, we will not cut them down but incorporate them into the design accordingly,” he said.
The hospital would be built on a total area of six acres of land.