Conserve Chattogram hill tracts forest ecology
Ecology illustrates sustainable nexus and various magnitudes of natural and human activities. Forest ecology is much more imperative for balancing nature and the ecosystem. But commercial plantation and intensive agriculture practices are increasing daily at Chattogram hill tracts in Bangladesh.
Commercial plantation, intensive agricultural practices, and reduction of forestland are accelerating soil erosion, changing vegetation and climate and lowering the water layer in the CHT area.
The country has been grappling with environmental deterioration using deforestation, commercial cultivation in forests, agricultural intensification, destruction of wetlands and inland fisheries, surface and groundwater pollution, soil nutrient depletion and inland salinity intrusion.
Apart from that, natural calamities like floods, cyclones, tidal surges, landslides and tornadoes have resulted in severe socioeconomic and environmental damage by a combination of natural and anthropogenic factors. Social scientists opined that shortly people in our country may not die of hunger but may die because of their inability to cook food due to the scarcity of firewood.
Irrational destruction of forests in the country results in severe ecological imbalance. It has been creeping over the Chattogram hill tracts unspectacularly, but relentlessly ecological degradation is setting in across the whole region. There has been increased interference with forest ecosystems as more wood is extracted for different purposes. In this context, biodiversity conservation and the issue of management of the hilly environment have become a burning question for environmental planners of Bangladesh.
Over the years, with the increase in cattle population, there has been a rapid degradation of the forest environment. Cattle are specially reared in the area for milk and agricultural purposes. This practice has recently gained popularity primarily because of the decrease in wild animals in hilly areas.
Most villagers collect dry stems, bark and leaves from the neighbouring forests for energy needs. Dry twigs and leaves from the natural forest are seldom enough to supply the fuel wood needs of a village having a large number of households. Therefore, the villagers indulge in extracting more fuel wood from the forest than is allowed under the rules. As a result, the illicit removal of fuel wood takes place. Contractors who collect wood to sell for house construction, furniture etc., are often in the habit of cutting more than is allowed.
The new settlers are continuously using natural resources at an increasing rate for domestic and other purposes. New roads are being built in the hilly areas each year to improve the communication system. As a result, strips of forestland are being cleared to make these roads. Landslides, hill slides, storms, and cloudbursts are also responsible for the reduction in the forest area.
Degraded forestlands lead to erosion, and the raindrop falls directly onto the forest floor in areas with little or no vegetation cover. Due to its kinetic force, the drop causes 'splash erosion. In the rainy season, in most cases, no topsoil is left on the peak or slopes of the hills, whereas in the valley areas, cultivated fields, roads, canals and settlements are infringed upon by the surface debris runoff down.
In the hilly areas, a distinct change is emerging regarding the vegetation due to deforestation. The hilly regions once known for their dense forests now lie denuded. An apparent shift in vegetation pattern is also noticeable due to a gradual change in the climate condition. In areas under lush vegetation, the trees absorb the heat, whereas the bare rocky slopes heat the surrounding atmosphere by acting as a mirror. Moreover, trees also break the force of winds, which roar across the slopes, thereby minimizing erosion by wind.
The water layer has fallen in the hilly areas through increasing biotic pressure on forests. The water absorption power of soil depends on its permeability, which is maintained by the roots, leaf litter, humus etc. The forest floor litter plays a significant role in steep mountain slopes, where the soil is shallow, absorbs about four times more water than ordinary soil and, by easy decomposition, adds to the depth of the ground.
Massive social forestry and forestation plan in the barren hilly areas has to be undertaken to check the further deterioration of the hill ecology. Overgrazing cattle in hilly areas should not be allowed to reduce the environmental crisis. Government should provide planned pastureland for cattle grazing in the hilly regions, and the fallow land can be used for this purpose.
Establishing a widespread network of monitoring systems is necessary to keep track of the environmental set-up of the natural vegetative cover in the hilly region. Forest laws should be enforced appropriately to check the illegal removal of forest produce and trees. The crime-doer should be severely dealt with. The corruption of the forest officials should be stopped by all means, and the honest officials of the forest department should be rewarded.
Community development programs should be effectively implemented to improve health and sanitation, food and nutrition, transport, communication and educational systems in the Chattogram hilly areas. The new human settlement in the hilly areas should be discouraged as far as possible. Government should undertake measures to make an even distribution of the population geographically and in a planned manner to reduce undue pressure on forest resources and the environment on the hill.
Courses on various aspects of ecology should be introduced at the school level in the Chattogram hilly region. The illiterate adults can be educated about this by running special programs in villages, broadcasting over the radio, and distributing leaflets and announcements at bus stands. Particular emphasis should also be placed on environmental education for women, as they play a significant role in the socioeconomic set-up of the hill tracts.
The context demands the participation of indigenous peoples through sustainable thoughts and native capacities to conserve the forest ecology in Bangladesh. To ensure ecological sustainability at Chattogram hill tracts, strategists and ecologists shape all the actions as mass-people-oriented actions for sustainable people-nature-land' nexus.
The writer is a researcher and development worker