In the past few days, two news stories from the media drew the attention of many who have a particular affinity to nature.
The government took an initiative to construct a hospital via public-private partnership (PPP) in Chattogram Railway Building (CRB) area that is ecologically important and carries some historical values.
Another heartbreaking incident occurred in Dhaka's Katabon wildlife market, where 400 animals died during this strict lockdown when shopkeepers could not open their shops to take care of the animals.
These two incidents raised some old but critical questions. Do we still belong to the old school of thought where development is considered a discrete process without aligning that to environmental protection and cultural preservation? Do we comprehend the intrinsic values of the ecosystem and the services it provides us for free, unconditionally?
Our policymakers are increasingly undermining nature's contributions to our everyday lives and missing ecosystem services' potential role for a vibrant urban society.
According to recent research, the urban built-up area has expanded by a staggering 7,140 square metres per day from 2001 to 2018, predominantly in developing and emerging countries like Bangladesh.
Since the low-income and lower-middle-income cities have a much faster rate of urbanisation coupled with weak infrastructure governance, it is speculated that there will be far more complex and overarching challenges.
Economic and infrastructural growth in densely populated cities like Dhaka and Chattogram are expected to continue, indicating jeopardised ecological balance in the future.
Limited scope for interactions with nature forces city-dwellers to become physically less active, increasing the risks of inflammation, obesity, and non-communicable diseases.
Urban green space and pocket forests provide an avenue for more robust social cohesion by creating a sense of place attachment, increasing social contacts, creating a feeling of community, and empowering through sociocultural engagements.
Such cohesion consequently offers increased physical activity, reduced stress, enhanced immune functioning, and improved subjective well-being.
Due to rapid economic development, festivals with long histories have been reinvigorated and have become a specific place-bound.
The Ramna park at the centre of Dhaka city is such a place with deep cultural value for which many city dwellers visit the park for health, recreational and sociocultural reasons.
This place has created a specific connection with the festival, like the Pohela Boishakh celebration.
For the same reason, the CRB area in Chattogram is historically significant, culturally vibrant and geologically a hilly space located at the city's heart.
The area is considered the oxygen center of the city and provides habitats for many birds and animals. Besides, this place allows cultural events and meeting space for people of different income levels.
Festivals bound to these places are organised and celebrated collectively, and therefore, the community relationships get reinforced.
At this outset, any infrastructural development in these areas will undoubtedly destroy the values of all aspects, starting from ecological and cultural to constitutional.
Assurance of protecting trees and then allowing infrastructural development does not take social, cultural, and environmental values into account.
Green space can reduce environmental and health inequalities by providing all population groups with equal opportunities to be involved in and benefit from natural environments and equal ecosystem services, such as safeguarding from air pollution and noise.
Urban forest patches and green spaces present unparalleled opportunities for delivering a host of beneficial outcomes.
Hence, policymakers and executive agencies must prioritise the efforts to protect existing urban green spaces instead of employing restoration activities like tree plantations.
Since healthcare is a basic need for all citizens of the country, there is an urgent need to assess the capacities of existing healthcare facilities.
It is widely reported that there are rooms for colossal improvement of the existing healthcare infrastructures to cater to all health needs. Moreover, we must rethink how to decentralise our healthcare system to address the inequalities.
In a nutshell, there is a need for a holistic change in environmental governance that will attribute institutions' strengths to align environmental protection to economic and social development.
Ekhtekharul Islam is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Environmental Science and Management at Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB). He can be reached at [email protected].
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.