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OP-ED: To avoid cooking the planet

  • Published at 07:43 pm September 13th, 2020
File photo of Chitra Deer in the Sundarbans Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Rehabilitating our forests is of the utmost importance

Let’s turn off the TV and get out of the knapsack of the internet for just a moment -- feign that we all agree climate change is real and that those changes will make the vivid existence of human beings increasingly challenging on the surface of this planet. 

Remember, we are feigning: If we all agreed, what might we do to slow down or redirect the deadly, rapid changes? And to what extent would we be able to make a difference? 

Simply put, trees and plants take in carbon dioxide and make the forestlands friendly with humans in nature. So, what might happen if forestlands face unscrupulous degradation, which makes it harder for the trees to share their blessings with the environment?

Every year, we lose more and more forests to the cost of development. To get a clear understanding, metaphorically, every day we lose hundreds of football fields worth of forestlands. In a country like Bangladesh, where forest coverage is significantly less than the mandatory 25%, the fear of an impending environmental crisis is legitimate.

Total forest coverage in Bangladesh is 2,600,000 hectares, which is an estimated 17% of the total land area. Of this, 61.52% of forestland belongs to and is generally managed by the Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD). Despite having affluent biodiversity, Bangladesh has one of the lowest per capita forestlands in the whole world, especially due to its high population density. Bangladesh has also experienced one of the highest rates of deforestation in the South Asian region, estimated at 2,600 hectares per year.

British colonial rulers formulated the Forest Act of 1927, but did not bear any responsibility for the effective preservation of the forests. Plenty of forces are responsible for forest degradation, collectively and individually.

Some of the main causes of forest degradation in Bangladesh are agricultural expansion, over-extraction of wood and non-wood resources, infrastructure development, population growth, deforestation, settlement, urbanization, and wrongful management practices. Forest degradation and unsurveyed or unmapped forests are also great concerns. Around half of the land area controlled by the BFD lacks tree coverage.

Aside from that, encroachment has become a tremendous problem in Bangladesh over the years. Encroached lands lack legal surveys of the owners, and appropriate measurements of the area are unknown. The present data are visual estimates of the Forest Department field staff.

The severe encroachment problem in the forest areas of Chittagong, CHT, and Cox’s Bazar is political and includes both the Rohingya and cyclone refugees. Though there is a strong political will for tree-planting programs prevalent in Bangladesh, factors like shrimp cultivation, establishment of industries/factories, floods, erosion, natural calamities, the Rohingya refugee problem, and encroachment of forest land by powerful people have made forest protection very difficult.

Also, agricultural land clearing, and uncontrolled and unscientific commercial logging results in deforestation. As a result, poverty, landlessness, and economic underdevelopment are spreading. Lack of effective coordination and cooperation among the relevant organizations are also responsible for the slow progress in rehabilitation programs.

In a response to all this, proper monitoring of forest resources is paramount to provide data for making policy decisions and having management plans to ensure sustainable development progress. Laws inclined towards anti-logging must be implemented.

Also, in a broader perspective, some programs can be initiated that will enable wealthy nations and corporate industries to make payments to LDC countries and communities for maintaining their forests. If a long-term plan is initiated to protect and preserve our trees, forests can then possibly have a sustainable impact in the future; for that, strong security systems around forests to tackle unscientific logging are the topmost necessity.

The most essential pathways are reforestation, forest management approaches that favour capturing carbon, urban reforestation, fire management, and avoided conversion. Legal steps must be taken to stop the encroachment and those who are responsible for it.

Now, we can stop feigning as if we all believe in climate change. Let the debates go their own way. If we intend to end up cooking this planet, perhaps we will simply travel over to the super Earth exo-planet, whose discovery was proclaimed some days back, and where the temperature is an apt 238 degrees below zero. Orbiting Barnard’s Star, only six light years away from us -- which is again, equal to many, many football fields. 

Saharin Priya Shaoun is a student of Public Administration.

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