Ecosystem restoration is described as the process of reversing the deterioration of ecosystems in order to restore their ecological functioning.
Controlling erosion, tree planting, removing non-native species and weeds, replanting and rebuilding disturbed soil, daylighting rivers or streams, reintroducing native species, and improving habitat for targeted species are all ways to help restore ecosystems.
Among other things, ecological restoration has the potential to safeguard the livelihood of many communities throughout the world, battle climate change, maintain food systems and enhance human health.
At present, over three billion people are suffering because of the devastation our activities have caused to ecosystems. It is believed that these consequences have resulted in a 10% reduction in global annual GDP.
Unfortunately, ecosystem restoration in our country remains a pipe dream due to the inadequate implementation of legal provisions in place to prevent activities such as deforestation, forest land and wetland grabbing, hill cutting, water and air pollution, and so on.
To this day, there exist loopholes in our system that allow individuals and companies to use their money and influence to break the rules stated in the paper and thus harm the ecosystem with immunity.
Furthermore, little to no attention is paid to the issue of ecosystem restoration in discussions at all levels in our country, resulting in a significant lack of awareness among people from all walks of life.
Sadly, most of us and our policymakers are only concerned with economic development, regardless of how it is achieved. If we look beyond this obsession, we will see that much of this progress has been made at the expense of our ecosystem.
However, because ecosystem restoration is at the bottom of our priority list, a large portion of our population is still unaware of the extent to which we are harming ourselves by ignoring it.
When you look at all of the ongoing global crises, such as climate change, you will notice that they have occurred partly because we have degraded our ecosystem to such an extent that the carbon cycle of the entire planet has been impacted.
Despite repeated warnings from experts, we have polluted the oceans, destroyed our forests, and done almost everything bad that we could have done to the ecosystem.
Given the circumstances, all of us, particularly our youth, must understand that only by striking the proper balance between environmental protection and economic development will we be able to ensure a sustainable future.
To that end, everyone should strive to do their best from whatever position they are in to protect the ecosystem.
For instance, if a person works for a company that is causing harm to the environment, he can help to stop it. If a person works in a political party, he can play a role in bringing the issue of ecosystem restoration into their discussions and taking steps to prevent others from causing further environmental harm.
Again, as an educator, one can help to spread knowledge about ecosystem restoration. Young activists and communicators can also play a role in ecosystem restoration by compelling relevant authorities to take action by raising their voices and empowering communities to the point where they can care for their own ecosystem.
On a more positive note, in comparison to where we were in the past, even at the beginning of the last decade, we have become more conscious of our responsibility to protect the ecosystem, and collective efforts are only increasing.
The efforts of various organisations to raise public awareness about this issue, such as the Bangladesh Youth Environmental Initiative (BYEI), are one of the primary reasons for this shift in attitude.
Since its establishment in 2009, this youth organisation has been working tirelessly to equip our youth with the consciousness, knowledge, and leadership skills needed to address existing and emerging socio-economic and environmental challenges through organising programmes such as the Earth Champions Programme (ECP) and National Earth Olympiad (NEO), among other things.
Broadly speaking, through ECP it builds the capacity of youth on project management, community engagement, leadership development and develops critical thinking capacity on scientific, socio-economic pathways through which environmental degradation can be stopped. It prepares the youth through a 4-day bootcamp covering different leadership modules, projectment training, games and exercise.
Each ECP member must establish an earth club in their respective institutions. The Earth Club is institutionalised in the respective education institutions of ECP fellows. The Earth Clubs unite in celebrating the World Environment Day, International Youth Day, etc.
Each club also engages in their own independent activities such as tree plantation, plastic cleaning drive, etc. BYEI supervises the activities of each of the clubs and makes sure that the activities are in line with the values and scientific norms of environmental and ecosystem restoration.
NEO aims to impart deeper knowledge of environmental science which are not covered in the SSC and HSC and intellectually stimulate the students to pursue environmental science in their future studies or become an environmental science scholar in the future.
BYEI prepares the NEO participants to tackle environmental challenges by inducing the students to study the comprehensive curriculum of NEO which covers a wide range of topics related to different cross-cutting environmental issues, geoscience and geography.
So far, they have educated and trained more than 500 youth in environmental leadership and established over 60 Earth Clubs throughout Bangladesh.
With the experience that BYEI has gained over the years, they are considering not only improving the quality of their programmes, but also expanding their reach into rural areas in the future.
However, given the extent of the damage we have already caused to the ecosystem, much more work remains to be done. Infact, on World Environment Day 2021 (5 June), the United Nations officially declared the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), acknowledging the importance of taking immediate steps now to restore damaged ecosystems and encouraging everyone to participate.
We will not be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals unless we restore the ecosystems. Many of the crises that we are expected to face in the post-pandemic world, such as poverty and climate change, may be mitigated by ecosystem restoration.
It may even be able to prevent future pandemics, saving the world from additional disruption and suffering, as well as the difficulties in developing vaccines to protect against them.
With 20% of croplands showing stressed or declining productivity, 66% of ocean ecosystems being damaged, degraded, or modified, 50% of city dwellers living without access to safe drinking water, and 80% living in areas of unsafe air quality globally, we simply do not have the scope to wait any longer.
Arafat Reza is a journalist.
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.