A decade for Ecosystem Restoration:
Recently, heartbreaking images of corpses of a tiger and deer washed up by the tidal waves in Sundarbans and Nijhum Island after the cyclone Yash emerged across various social media portals, creating shockwaves among not just environmentalists, climate activists, policymakers alike but also common citizens.
It was also learned afterwards, that many wild animals within the cyclone-affected forest area were in critical condition due to severe waterlogging. As the annual occasion of World Environment Day 2021 knocks on our door, we must look into this year's theme, ecosystem restoration, which also marks the official launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a 10-year push to halt and reverse the decline of the natural world. Ecosystem restoration refers to the process by which natural ecosystems can be revived and replenished and there are many ways to do so including tree plantation, removing pressures on the ecosystem by protecting the environment from further depletion and cutting down on the increasing level of environmental pollution.
As a climate-vulnerable disaster-prone nation, Bangladesh is now cited as a role model in disaster management across the world. However, our disaster management policies and plans have always been known to be people-centered and do not take into account the damage to ecosystems and wildlife, as a result of which the rehabilitation or restoration of ecosystems and wildlife is not given much importance in post-disaster rehabilitation programs.
Although deforestation and environmental degradation is taking place due to various factors at an exponential rate, the recovery of adversely affected ecosystems is not occurring at an aligned pace. Overpopulation and human settlement in ecologically sensitive areas have resulted in deterioration of local biodiversity. An example isTeknaf area in Cox's Bazar contains a number of refugee camps, so despite being declared as protected areas with designated ecosystem management plans, in reality, implementation of these plans is difficult.
The Need to Conserve:
One of the pivotal steps towards ecosystem restoration is conservation of indigenous flora and fauna. A World Bank-funded project named SHUFOL, under which restoration of hill forest areas in Chittagong, Sylhet and Cox's Bazar are being focused on, conservation of indigenous species have been identified as one of the main areas of concern. Under the SHUFOL project, with the help of international Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN) and the National Herbarium, a list of endangered plant/herb and animal varieties is being been compiled. The city corporation can administer a central division that can act as a database/data bank on statistics related to urban biodiversity.
Conservation efforts must also include the urban ecosystem, and since no comprehensive and holistic database on green coverage on Dhaka city exists so far except for a few disjoint researches, designated organisations need to be involved in curating the varieties found in Botanical Garden, Sahrawardy Uddyan and designated areas within the Dhaka Cantonment. Keeping in mind the urbanisation context in Bangladesh, our policy and planning documents (8th FYP and others) have highlighted the issue of urbanisation quite comprehensively.
However, the promulgation of the Urban and Regional Planning Act 2015 can further guide key areas of such land use. To ensure integrated urbanisation, there is no alternative to strengthening the institutional infrastructure of affiliated government bodies and ministries, keeping in mind that Bangladesh is lagging behind in its achievement of SDG 11 which reinforces the need to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. As urban settlements continue to expand, limits need to be placed on the unplanned and unprecedented nature of Dhaka city's expansion.
The limit on Urbanisation: Nature Based Solutions
To protect existing ecosystems, green, as well as sustainable land use and development needs to be an area of focus in the forthcoming years as Bangladesh strives towards its goal of emerging as a developed nation. We need growing spaces for expanding cities, and an environment that allows cohabitation of both animal species and human population, and strong legal frameworks are needed to ensure implementation of the plans.
The 'biodiversity perspective' needs to be incorporated in city planning, especially key documents such as the Detailed Area Plan (DAP). Not only cities but districts, sub-districts, and suburban areas need to be kept in mind as well. Small townships and municipalities need to be included in development plans to ensure the implementation of a 'macro to micro' approach.
The significance of such master plans in conservation of biodiversity (both flora and fauna) and restoration of ecosystems can be done through social forestry, which is already being implemented. Green infrastructure needs to be promoted via advocacy and awareness raising campaigns and knowledge hubs need to be mobilized to ensure strategic inclusion of nature-based solutions and innovative ideas in key planning documents.
Nature-based solutions (NbS) are "actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits." As an umbrella concept that covers a wide range of ecosystem-related approaches, it also incorporates ecosystem restoration. NbS thus addresses the challenges our society is now facing, such as unsustainable resource management, unplanned economic and infrastructural development, pollution, disaster vulnerability, and long-term impacts of climate change.A recent report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Oxford University has noted that NbS can play a crucial role in tackling the causes and consequences of climate change.
The Time to Act:
Sundarbans, known as the world's largest mangrove forests is known to be home to many rare and globally threatened wildlife species. As coastal forests, including the Sundarbans, encounter high tides during disasters such as cyclones and floods, adequate arrangements need to be made to protect the flora and fauna within the forest area.
Most importantly it is necessary to determine the extent of damage to the ecosystem and wildlife in the post-disaster period and to make arrangements for the recovery and restoration of the ecosystem and wildlife after the disaster. In addition, there is a need to ensure coordination between the inter-ministerial and the concerned departments. The Department of Disaster Management and the Department of Forests can work together to address ecosystem and wildlife disasters.
It is high we realised that all our development processes, efforts and investments cannot not be overly human-centered. We must understand that if the ecosystem around us continues to be depleted, our survival shall become threatened.The time to act is not tomorrow, but today.
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.