Stunned by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, people confined themselves to their homes in the hope of survival. The entire country gradually went under lockdown keeping pace with the rest of the world. In the meantime, nature got a brief relief to heal its damaged organs.
Air pollution caused by rampant human interventions dropped by 50%. Air in Dhaka – one of the severely polluted cities in the world – got healthy certification even only for daytime in the national standard. Pink dolphins made a comeback to Cox's Bazar sea beach, aquatic and terrestrial animals started roaming in their respective habitats, the plants and herbs also breathed a sigh of relief.
It was as if nature had revived its lost glory after bringing its disobedient child back to home. Policymakers also realised afresh that eco-parks and gardens need rest every year.
But, nature had to return to its ordinary form with the withdrawal of the lockdown.
Opposite to the positive natural changes, incidents like medical waste mismanagement and a rise in polythene use worried environmentalists and public health experts.
Air quality improved 50%
Dr Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder, chairman of the environmental science department at Stamford University, observed air quality in Dhaka during the first two weeks of the shutdown put in force on 26 March last year.
At that time, the level of air pollution in Dhaka reduced by half compared to the corresponding period of the previous year. But, it was only during the daytime. The lowest levels of air pollution were measured at 10 am, 2-3 pm, and 5 pm – which was within the standards approved by the environment department.
However, the level of pollution at night just doubled. The highest amount of particulate matter (PM 2.5) was recorded between 2-4 pm.
Dr Ahmad Kamruzzaman said, "During the shutdown, cargo vehicles used to move at night. Therefore, the night air was contaminated with various gaseous elements and dust, and the pollution level was double than that in daytime. This means vehicles are a major contributor to air pollution.
"In addition, a sluggish demand for construction materials reduced production at brick kilns, which was another key reason behind the improvement in air quality."
He said, "In the first five months of the since the beginning of the shutdown, air pollution in Dhaka was only about half that of other years. But, we have returned to our previous position since the opening of industries and the resumption of road traffic."
Dhaka's score in the US Air Quality Index was 158 on 6 March, which means unhealthy.
Lush green all around, birds came out chirping in lockdown silence
Although the lockdown fizzled out a long time ago, the entire country, including the national parks, is still greener than the previous years. Nature is still abuzz with various animals and birds, and different regions of the country show the improvements.
Since the Jahangirnagar University has been closed, more animals and reptiles such as monitor lizards roam around the campus and adjacent areas than ever before.
Eliza Binte Elahi is a traveller who has travelled to 264 cities of 49 countries. She has also travelled to all the districts of the country. Eliza recently visited Moulvibazar's Lawachara National Park and Habiganj's Satchari National Park.
She said the lush green inside the parks amazed her. "Yet tourists are not coming out in large numbers, while there are many places where the tourist presence is far and few. In both Satchari and Lawachara, I saw monkeys roaming around in groups, fearlessly than ever before."
"I also went to Bogura and Gopalganj during the lockdown. Nature seemed greener than ever and I heard lots of birds chirping."
Govt's policy perception to protect nature, biodiversity
The parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change held a meeting on 26 July last year. They decided to keep all the national parks and reserve forests closed for tourists for the next three months.
According to the decision, the national parks were closed till 31 October last year.
The committee also realised the national parks should remain closed for tourists for at least a few days each year. The parliamentary body took the initiative to do a cost-benefit analysis in this regard.
The government earns Tk10 crore annually from the national parks. The analysis will estimate the cost of nature to earn that amount.
The committee President Saber Hossain Chowdhury said, "We do not want tourists to the national parks throughout the year. Rather, nature should get a pause to heal its wounds. We will formulate a policy in this regard."
Dolphins showed up, red crabs swamped beach
On 23 March last year, two medium-sized dolphin groups showed up at Cox's Bazar beach. There were also rare pink dolphins in the group.
Monirul H Khan, a zoology professor at Jahangirnagar University, identified the groups as Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. He said as those dolphins prefer solitude, they usually do not come close to the shore.
Prof Monirul said when dolphins of the species reach adulthood, their skin colour changes from black to pink.
The dolphins were seen at Kalatali, Sugandha and Laboni beaches for several days. At the same time, red crabs swamped Cox's Bazar beach as the seashore was covered with shrubs.
Ibrahim Khalil Mamun, chief executive of the Youth Environment Society Cox's Bazar chapter, said, "I have been coming to the beach for the last 20 years, but never saw a dolphin. During the lockdown, crabs and shrubs on the beach were abundant. But, with the tourist rush, crabs on seashore have decreased and now only can be found at south Inani. And the vines on the beach are also disappearing like tourist crowds."
Medical waste, polythene worried environmentalists
The first month of the lockdown generated 14,500 tonnes of medical waste, showed a study carried out by the Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO).
The waste includes hand gloves, face masks, sanitizer containers and polythene. Of these, 5796 tonnes of garbage such as masks, surgical gloves and sanitizer containers had polythene compounds.
Half of the nearly 40,000 waste collectors across the country were absent at work by the end of the first month of the lockdown.
Shahriar Hossen, secretary general of ESDO, said some of the waste collectors who were absent told them they could not go to work due to cough and fever.
"It is difficult for them to test Covid-19 as they have very little communication, and there was also no dedicated testing arrangement for them. It seems that many of those who were absent at work got infected with Covid-19."
"Their lives, livelihoods and health all are under risk," he said.