The economic contribution of the Sundarbans to the nation is incalculable. The 2030 agenda for UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to achieve economic, social, and environmental sustainability in a balanced and integrated manner.
To achieve this goal, the world community is determined to protect the planet from degradation through sustainable consumption, production of natural resources, and urgent action on climate change.
However, the UN long ago acknowledged the contribution of biodiversity and ecosystem in providing goods and services which accounts for at least 40% of the world’s economy and 80% of the needs of the poor, and are almost free.
To create awareness on environmental issues, each year UN celebrates World Environment Day based on a certain theme.
This year, the theme is “Go Wild for Life” and the host of the event is Angola because of its imminent threat of illegal trading of ivory, rhinoceros horns, and dwindling biodiversity.
Likewise, the Bangladesh government, along with its development partners, are also celebrating the day.
As a developing nation, the country’s economy has its deepest roots in its natural resources in some form.
Increased wildlife poaching and unplanned development are eroding its precious biodiversity and natural heritage, and are driving some species to the brink of extinction.
Unfortunately, the contribution of biodiversity and ecosystem is neglected in development planning.
For example, the Sundarbans -- the nation’s largest mangrove forest -- helps in reducing poverty for the 2-3 million people living in the impact zone by expanding economic opportunities.
The mangrove forest stores about 615.5391 million mg carbon and acts as a regulator for greenhouse gases. It also acts as a deterrent to tropical cyclones and storm, and saves assets worth millions of dollars.
But this monetary value and its contribution are being ignored in our economy.
I argue about the monetary value because the Vietnam government has assessed that planting and protecting 12,000 hectares of mangrove costs just over a million dollars, but it also saves annual expenditures on dike maintenance of well over $7 million dollars.
However, Bangladesh does not have a comprehensive assessment on the contribution of the Sundarbans to our economy, including the savings it makes during cyclones by protecting vulnerable communities.
The iconic Royal Bengal Tiger, the jewel of the mangrove, is suffering from habitat loss and falling in numbers due to the decline of its prey. IPCC also predicts that the tiger population in the Sundarbans could disappear by the end of this century due to rise in the sea level caused by climate change.
The tiger census conducted by the Forest Department of Bangladesh has found 440 tigers in 2004, while the last census in 2015 officially found that the number is only 106 in Bangladesh territory.
Honey collectors in the Sundarbans say the wilder the Sundarbans, the higher the ecosystem services. They also predict that if there are no Royal Bengal Tigers in the Sundarbans, ultimately, there will be no Sundarbans, period.
Without Royal Bengal Tigers, the forest will be less dangerous, and thus safer for wildlife poachers, illegal trading, honey collecting, fishing, and forest-cutting.
When the mangrove forest has a great potential to fight climate change, initiatives launched by the government and development partners are not sufficient in protecting wildlife.
In the last five years, the Bangladesh government has invested Tk3,000 crore ($390m) through 369 projects initiated by the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund. But none of the projects has exclusively focused on wildlife preservation in the Sundarbans except a small project that seeks to induct the Sundarbans as a new wonder of nature.
However, this project has no direct value for the conservation of the Sundarbans. In fact, the government has approved environmentally sensitive development projects like the construction of a coal-based power plant near the Sundarbans and has authorised commercial ships to navigate the rivers within the forest.
All these activities are threatening noise and water pollution, which will adversely affect Irrawaddy dolphins and other species, and can be attributed to “counter climate financing” initiatives for this world heritage site.
However, development partners and donors are also doing their bid to conserve the ecosystem and raise awareness to protect its endangered species.
Climate funds like Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund and Pilot Program for Climate Resilience have also ignored the issue of conservation of wildlife to combat climate change.
Although Global Environmental Facility has implemented certain projects, it has also canceled a project which was exclusively focused on biodiversity conservation concerning the Sundarbans.
-Md Mahfuzul Haque, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB)
This article has been published in Dhaka Tribune on 5 June, 2016. Link