- Bangladesh 50:50 – Planting Hopes Challenge launched
- The campaign aims to plant 5 lakh plants by 2030
- Deforestation highest in Bangladesh in South Asia
- Dhaka ranks consistently poor in Air Quality Index
- Tree conservation act, biodiversity checklist still a far cry
- Youth engagement must be prioritised to protect nature
The destruction of the ecosystem has reached a critical level in Bangladesh and urgent action is an imperative to revive the country's damaged environment, experts and stakeholders said on Saturday.
Addressing a virtual dialogue on ecosystem restoration in Bangladesh they also emphasised the need for youth engagement to preserve nature, adding that Bangladesh must rebuild its ecosystem before all foundations of survival are lost.
Plan International Bangladesh, Bangladesh Youth Environmental Initiative (BYEI) and Population Services and Training Center (PSTC) jointly organised the discussion in partnership with The Business Standard.
Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmad, former chief conservator of forests at the Bangladesh Forest Department, said, "The destruction of forests, wetlands and agri-diversity are the prominent examples of ecological imbalance in Bangladesh. Climate change is being driven by people.
"The destruction of biodiversity is connected with natural disasters. Forest and wetlands are extremely valuable, but they are falling victim to illegal occupation. Forests are particularly at risk. I have never heard of an illegal occupier getting punished."
He continued, "Housing projects are being built by destroying wetlands. There was a wetland where the Purbachal Housing Project is now located. There are many such projects that have sprung up.
"The changes in our ecosystem are not headed for a good outcome. So, we must evaluate whether our approach to the protection of the environment is the right one. Moreover, we must formulate a tree conservation act and biodiversity checklist because Bangladesh has none."
Ahmad recommended a further strengthening of the country's resource management and a utilization of youth to build a movement against the destruction of the environment and climate.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee at the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said, "We human beings are part of the ecosystem, but we have our lost connection to it.
"We are fighting against nature. Now, the time has come to declare a ceasefire."
He continued, "Roads and power transmission lines are being built through reserve forests. Land under the jurisdiction of the forest department is frequently being eyed as locations for new projects.
"Once, people used to say that preserving the environment and carrying out development are conflicting actions. Now, green development is a widely accepted idea. But first and foremost, we must change our mindset about this issue."
Adding that Bangladesh currently possesses no record of its natural resources, Chowdhury said the parliamentary standing committee has launched an initiative to record the national accounts and economic value of the country's natural resources.
Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela) Executive Director Syeda Rizwana Hasan said, "We must do away with laws formulated during the British and Pakistani periods, and devise new regulations capable of aiding us in protecting the environment.
"Organisations concerned should be reformed too. There is no alternative to the restoration of our ecosystem. The youth have to play an important role in this regard."
Calling upon the youth to stand firm against pollution, Hasan said, "Those who are young now will face the risks of climate change in the next 20-25 years. Therefore, young people will have to lead the movement.
"The next generation's opinion must be included while implementing the development agenda."
Farida Akhter, executive director of UBINIG, an NGO based in Dhaka, spoke about her experience with biodiversity-based agro-ecology in Bangladesh, saying "We have been engaged in a movement for biodiversity-based agro-ecology for a long time.
"This movement is also known as the new agricultural revolution. We initiated the use of natural fertilizer instead of pesticides. We also placed focus on preserving seeds, and collected around 2,500 types of seeds once thought to be lost."
Blaming genetically modified food for declining crop diversity, she said farmers and the government have lost control of their crops.
Agro-ecology expert Dr MA Sobhan said, "We are cultivating paddy on 80% of arable land. A lot of pesticides are being used, which is very expensive. This is why farmers are not getting fair prices for their crops.
"Farmers are using submersible pumps for irrigation. Such a move is causing arsenic poisoning among people through the crops. We should put more emphasis on natural agriculture through the use of rainwater."
Center for Natural Resource Studies' Executive Director Dr Mukhlesur Rahman said, "Planting is not the only way to restore an ecosystem. If we can ensure environmentally friendly land use, agro-biodiversity can be increased."
Kashfia Feroz, director girls rights at Plan International Bangladesh, said, "We all are responsible for losing the ecosystem. We now have to ensure youth engagement in the restoration of the ecosystem."
While discussing the state of the ecosystem, Shamir Shehab, founder of Bangladesh Youth Environmental Initiative (BYEI), said the rate of deforestation is the highest in Bangladesh and Dhaka's rank in the Air Quality Index is alarming.
At the programme, the organisers outlined a tree plantation campaign, "Bangladesh 50:50 – Planting Hopes Challenge", to mark World Environment Day 2021 which was observed on 5 June.
Through the campaign, the organisers aim to plant five lakh trees across Bangladesh by 2030.
The event was jointly moderated by The Business Standard Chief Reporter Morshed Noman and Oxfam's head of climate justice and natural resource rights Enamul Mazid Khan Siddique.