December 10, 2007

Shrimp Cultivation Destroying Bangladesh’s Mangrove Forests – Paper

Text of report by Amin Al Rashid headlined "Coastal areas to remain under risk: one-third mangrove forest destroyed in 50 years" published by Bangladeshi newspaper Jai Jai Din on 4 December

The main mangrove forests are vital to the safety of the coastal areas. But unfortunately, in the name of the "shrimp revolution" a vast number of mangroves have been destroyed in various places in the country, including Satkhira and Cox's Bazar districts. As a result, damage caused by the recent Cyclone Sidr was greater in intensity. However, this is not true of Bangladesh alone. Shrimp cultivation is the main reason behind the destruction of 20 to 50 per cent forests of the world.

According to the study of an organization called Coast, which works on coastal environment, one-third of Bangladesh's mangrove forest has been destroyed in the last 50 years.

A dangerous cyclone swept over the coastal areas of Bangladesh a few days ahead of the international conference on climate change at Bali in Indonesia. Questions have been raised whether the government will allow the destruction of more mangrove forests or undertake any long-term strategy to protect the people, the resources and environment in the coastal areas.

During the visit to 15 November cyclone-hit coastal areas, signs of destruction were clearly visible. Chief Conservator of Forests A.K.M. Shamsuddin himself admitted that one-fourth of the trees of the world's largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, have been destroyed. He said the 15 November cyclonic storm and tidal surge have caused economic loss to the tune of 8,000m to 10,000m taka [one US dollar equals about 69 taka] in the Sundarbans alone. Besides, if the losses of oxygen, ecology and others are calculated, the amount will be several thousand crore takas[one crore equals 10m]. He said several thousands of almost all kinds of trees in the Sundarbans, including the Sundari, Gewa, Goran and others, which distinguish the world's largest mangrove forest, have also been uprooted.

According to various sources, Chakoria Sundarbans, on 22,000 acres, has been completely destroyed due to shrimp cultivation in Bangladesh's southern region since the 1990s. This was the second- largest mangrove forest of the country. But the experts believe that apart from man-made causes, global climatic changes like global warming are also a major cause of mangrove forest destruction. Due to the rise of ground-level temperature, the sea level is also rising. As a result, there are possibilities of flooding in low- lying coastal areas and the destruction of mangroves and their surroundings. It is feared that one day the Sundarbans might be submerged under water if global warming is not arrested.

According to the information of the International Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], which is the UN research organization on climate change, the rising sea level, together with a shortage of sweet water, causes the spread of saline water. The sea water enters inside, crossing the coast, particularly when rains become scarce in winter. Many mangroves can not endure saline water, and as a result, they become vulnerable. The Sundarbans is the main victim of climatic changes at this moment. The salinity of the soil is gradually increasing there because of the shortage of water in winter. As a result, the threat to the Sundarbans is growing day by day. It may be mentioned that there are some defence networks for the coasts. Of them, the mangrove wall is capable of containing 30 to 40 per cent strength of a tsunami or typhoon. Mangroves could resist the sea surge before it hits human habitation. Besides, dense mangroves not only protect the coastal environment, they also preserve a beneficial environment. Before going to sea, various creatures and fish use the mangrove as a safe sanctuary.

Extreme misuse of forest resources in human habitation, big developmental works, agriculture, deforestation, salt extraction, urbanization, infrastructure building, change in the route of river water, etc. have also destroyed the mangrove forests. This is because many think that mangrove forest is fallow land.

Experts feel that the destruction of mangrove forests has to be stopped by enacting laws to save life, property and environment from cyclones, tidal surges and other natural calamities. And huge mangrove forests have to be prepared through government initiatives. Private and individual initiatives have to be encouraged in this regard.

Referring to the issue of destruction of mangrove forests, eminent thinker Farhad Mazhar said state and government efforts are devoid of responsibility and love for the coastal people. This negligence is tantamount to an offence. Farhad Mazhar said millions of dollars came from abroad to face this kind of disaster, but were siphoned off by the government and NGOs and embezzled by bureaucrats. Businessmen and contractors made profits out of the money.

Originally published by Jai Jai Din, Dhaka, in Bengali, 4 Dec 07, pp 15-16.

(c) 2007 BBC Monitoring South Asia. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.