Climate change and deforestation are causing a rapid loss of arable land and land degradation around the world. It has a devastating effect on the lives of marginalised communities. Droughts, desertification, flood, and soil erosion threaten the existence of the flora and fauna.
Protecting the ecosystem majorly depends on the existence of forests. It has two specific targets- increasing tree-covered area by 25% and forest area by 18% respectively.
Bangladesh currently is in an ambiguous situation, on one side it has to protect the environment, and on the other side it needs to continue the current rate of economic growth, which will eventually pollute the environment but will turn Bangladesh into a developed country by 2041.
To depict environmental pollution in relation to the per-capita income of Bangladesh, some economists suggest an inverted 'U' shaped curve - which shows before reaching a substantial amount of per-capita income, the pollution will continue to rise; as growth requires industrial development, a high rate of production - eventually leading to harmful by-products, polluting the air, water, and land.
However, prioritising infrastructural growth prior to sustaining the environment is not a sustainable way of development for us, as we have limited natural resources with a huge population density. We believe it's possible to continue the economic growth without destroying the environment.
About 19 million of the people of Bangladesh depend on forests. About 70% of the population of Bangladesh still lives in rural areas, and they depend mostly upon trees for firewood, cattle raising and for fruits. But with the rapid rise of population and industrial infrastructures, forests are at great risk. As we need more land for agriculture, homes, and industries, more forest is disseminated.
And that's not the only reason. In fact, the lack of responsibility of officials, their inertia to enact or implement the laws and regulations is also responsible for this. Deforestation is evident in some of the reserved areas as well.
The widespread cutting down of trees is seen in the areas of Dhaka, Rajshahi, Rangpur, and Dinajpur. Moreover, in the Chattogram Hill Tract area deforestation is evident due to Jhum cultivation; and in the forest area of Hathazari by the loggers. Bangladesh currently has only about 12% of its land covered with forest, compared to 26% forest coverage in Asia. This is also below the 18% forest coverage target under SDG 15.
SDG Sustainable Development Goals 15 (life on land) particularly deals with this scenario by restoring and conserving the terrestrial ecosystem. Most importantly, it aims to halt deforestation and protect natural biodiversity.
Taking these into account, the Forest Department of the government took various projects under the Social Forestry Program to plant trees, which will also help marginalised communities. One of the significant projects is to plant trees along the roadside around the country, from which these communities can be benefitted.
There are also sufficient contributions of some national and international NGOs in such initiatives. Aside from these projects, it is high time strict new laws were enacted and implemented to curb any type of deforestation. With effective management, the forest area should be declared protected by the government.
It's not just the administration, the community can also play a role by taking the initiative to protect their part of the forest. For this awareness and consciousness campaigns are necessary. The population can be incentivised if provided with monetary benefit, and volunteer organisations working on this issue should be incentivised both monetarily, and by providing community and national recognition. Notably, there is sufficient demand for woods in the production of paper, furniture, construction, and cooking purposes. So, an alternative way aside from cutting down forests needs to be found. This could be the use of jute, plastic, or recycling of old paper, and for cooking purposes, solar or biogas-powered stoves besides electric or gas-powered stoves could be used.
An alternative tree plantation program can be taken whose primary purpose would be the production of timber and if economically possible timber import should be encouraged by providing import subsidy/ tax breaks, instead of putting excessive pressure on the existing trees of Bangladesh.
In areas near the village or any habitat where marginalised communities live, it is better to plant trees that will be beneficial to the community. Planting some medicinal plants could also be the best choice for its multi-purpose benefits.
Additionally, forests have the power to restore and expand, so vacant space should be kept around the forest to let it regenerate. In city areas, trees are needed to curb air pollution and give the citizens a sense of clean breadth. Planting trees in cities has a particular benefit besides providing oxygen, which is transpiration cooling; which helps reduce the temperature in the air.
The Forest department reported increased practice of killing and smuggling of wild animals amidst the pandemic. And, throughout this time the rapid smuggling of wild-life animals like tigers, pigeons, peacocks, swans, pangolin, gecko lizards, and cockatoos to India was observed. So, for protecting the faunas of our forest aside from conserving our forests, special surveillance is needed.
According to the forestry master plan for 2017-2036, more than one-third of the forest department's positions are vacant, and the lack of adequate IT infrastructure and funds for routine activities such as duty travel are straining surveillance. In this context, a much more structured initiative is required to increase the Bangladesh Forest Department's overall effectiveness and resiliency.
Both government and private initiatives are needed to protect our trees and to plant more heavily wherever land is available. When planting trees, we should focus on achieving diversity by planting a variety of plants instead of monocultures. This will contribute significantly toward building up a sustainable ecosystem.
Dr Md Mahbubul Hakim is an associate professor at the Department of Economics, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology.
Sakib Mahmud is an undergraduate student of Economics at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.