Protecting the Sundarbans must be top priority
According to recent media reports, the Sundarbans Mangrove forest - also known as the 'Green Wall' to have protected the people of the coastal region from the devastation of cyclone Sidr is shrinking fast - thanks to unmindful felling of trees and lack of effective conservation efforts. Following this alarming development it should ring alarm bells for both environmentalists and policy makers.
In most cases the greenery of the forest acts in the likes of a natural shield against climactic disasters, and given the depletion of the 'Green Wall', the mangrove forest itself will be vulnerably exposed to destruction caused by climate change.
Sundarbans, already at the heart of a raging controversy over the building of power plants is now being systematically deforested. The quantities of logs of various trees cut down in the Mangrove forest are finding their way out of the forest under the very noses of security authorities. Trade in illegal timber has been gaining momentum where loggers and corrupt officials band together to clear out precious trees from a UN heritage site.
Moreover, several external factors are also threatening the long-term protection of the Sundarbans mangrove forest: Up-stream agricultural practices and hydrologic interventions as well as increasing industrial development of the periphery are gradually deteriorating the mangrove ecosystem. These stressors on the forest are exacerbated by the negative impacts of climate change such as extreme weather events and sea level rise putting both peoples' lives and properties in the delta, and not to mention the integrity of the ecosystem at huge risk. The growing population pressure in the periphery leads to the unsustainable use of natural resources when people enter the mangrove forests--some legally (fishing), some illegally (poaching)--to sustain their livelihood.
While we have various programmes at both government and non-government levels urging the plantation of trees, here we are, turning a blind eye to an illicit trade that is systematically reducing the number of trees in a protected forest. The trees of the forest are naturally grown trees that give the Sundarbans its unique beauty while serving the purpose of a natural defence; trees that save us from air pollution and reduce the carbon emission impacts.
Loss of forest damages the ecological balance, resulting in less rainfall and causing drier conditions over broad surrounding areas, sometimes leading to draught, increased flooding and erosion of sediment into rivers, disrupting river ecosystems. Now is perhaps the only time to take immediate protective measures to save the only big patch of natural forest left in Bangladesh.
The question is then precisely where do our priorities lie when it comes to building up resilience against climate change? It is a proven fact that the Mangrove forest does much to ward off the worst effects of natural calamities like cyclone. Lastly, apart from augmenting the existing forest reserves in Bangladesh, environmental authorities must also protect and reclaim the lost parts of vegetations of the Sundarbans.