Deforestation has become a grave concern these days for the Bangladesh environmentalists who are monitoring the trend and also the rate of change in climate and at the same time, its adverse impacts. Even though there are laws, the smugglers with the help of influential individuals and forest officials have been robbing the forests in different areas of the country unabated, including those reserved ones in 28 locations. The concern is on the rise as media reports suggest that the government offices and the law enforcement agencies are unable to tackle the situation.
Currently, as per the government data available, the country has around 13 percent of forest area. A common understanding is that the figure is overestimated. But considering the extent of urbanisation and industrialisation, we need to be very careful about the forest areas since we cannot cover up the loss of greenery with anything else.
We have laws to prevent such illegal acts of felling trees indiscriminately for different ‘purposes’, mainly illegal logging and criminal timber trade. We also have a number of projects undertaken by the government and international agencies to raise and protect forests, mostly long-term plans. But in reality, the destroyers win, and therefore, the outcome of the development projects simply lags behind the target.
In this 21st century Bangladesh, it is not very important to tell people and the government how greenery can help us economically, socially and by balancing the ecology, most important for our survival. Forests are vital source of biodiversity and livelihoods. But we still are in dark or indifferent to the near future when the weather would go extreme and unpredictable, and rains-cyclones-floods would hit us severely, and the birds and animals — dependent on trees and plants — will disappear, diminishing the balance.
The huge natural greenery in the Sundarbans, and the hilly areas of Sylhet and the Chittagong Hill Tracts are the best resources of our environment that are helping us by balancing the weather and resisting the adverse impacts of natural calamities.
Apart from the green groups, the government agencies too are concerned about the mass deforestation taking place in all these areas while trees are being cut every now and then in other places to feed the furniture industry and to use as firewood for the brick kilns and cooking at rural households. Moreover, illegal logging involves other crimes such as poaching and robbery in the forests which are dense and situated in remote areas.
Green groups suggest that the situation is grave mainly because of lax monitoring by the government, involvement of the forest officials in smuggling logs and soft punishment for the offence. Moreover, lack of adequate number of lawmen in the government’s forest areas allures the smugglers to fell trees and sell those.
It is all about ‘money’.
On the contrary, every government undertakes laudable projects and plans a better future when there would be enough greenery in the country. Many international development partners and organisations join hands with the government and NGOs to prevent deforestation and promote plantation. These plans involve millions of dollars which covertly line the pockets of unscrupulous businessmen and influential individuals affiliated with political parties, generally the ruling ones.
Thus the plans appear to be ‘show-off’ by the governments and the foreign financiers as if they are very much concerned about the environment. Take the instance of the CHT, where the army is now holding discussions with the government officials and locals to find ways to prevent deforestation by the smugglers; and in the Sundarbans, several renowned international development partners have launched million dollar projects but the smuggling of wood is on during even day time and the government is also mulling establishment of a huge coal-based power plant while other mega establishments are putting threats on the birds and animals at the world’s largest mangrove forest. In Chittagong and Sylhet, brick kiln owners, housing firms and industries are cutting down trees ever day.
We definitely need development through urbanisation and industrialisation, but at what cost?
We should not forget that our future is inextricably linked to forests. The social and economic benefits they provide are essential to realising a sustainable century. A key litmus test of our commitment to this future is our response to a growing global threat: illegal logging and the criminal timber trade.
Well! Such illegal and dystophian act has been taking place in other parts of the world too, and thus, deforestation has become a global concern at this time.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, more than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods, including 60 million indigenous people who are wholly dependent on forests. Forests are also natural carbon storage systems and key allies in combating climate change. They are vast, nature-based water utilities assisting in the storage and release of freshwater to lakes and river networks. Moreover, the loss of forests is responsible for up to 17 percent of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions, 50 percent more than that from ships, aviation and land transport combined.
There is increasing evidence that an important slice of these losses and emissions is linked to illegal logging and organised crime in key tropical countries of the Amazon basin, Congo Basin and Southeast Asia.
Indeed, Green Carbon: Black Trade, a recent report by the UNEP and the Interpol, estimates that illegal activity accounts for 50 to 90 percent of all logging in these key areas — a criminal trade worth between $30 and 100 billion annually worldwide.
Loggers and dealers quickly shift between regions and countries to avoid local and international policing efforts, laundering wood by mixing it with legally cut timber, or passing off wood originating from wild forests as plantation timber.
With the increase in organised criminal activity related to forests, crimes such as murder are also on the rise. The growing involvement of criminal cartels should be of grave concern for communities, companies, conservationists, and all forest stakeholders.
Let’s hope for a greener Bangladesh when the government takes effectively comprehensive measures regarding the forests — both to protect and raise the greenery — for a better future.