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The Endangered People and Environment
South - West Coastal Region of Bangladesh

Ashraf-ul -Alam tutu


In his book, The History of Jessore – Khulna, Mr. Satish Chandra Mitra wrote, ‘‘The just discovered fallow land of ages yields a golden harvest, people braved their dear lives in lands full of dangerous beasts of prey.” He further wrote, "Both the area of humam habilation and population it self - are increasing beacuse of the greed for staple crops".

Bangladesh is a least developed country with a fast growing population (115million). Although the country has a small land area, it can be divided into a number of regions from the perspective of geological formation and environment and ecological features. Among them, The South -West Coastal Region (SWCR) stands out as unique and sensetive in terms of ecology and environment.
The South -West Coastal Region mainly includes the whole of Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat districts and the adjecent southern part of Jessore district. The whole region is bordered in the east by the Madhumoti - Haringhata -and west by the Ichamoti - Kalindi - Hariabhanga  rivers.
The South-west coastal region is unique in its environmental nature and is the most fertile region in the world. It is also very rich in natural resources and bio-diversity.
The Sunderbans, which is the largest mangrove forest in the world, belong to this zone. Naturally the land is very fertile. River estuaries are very much productive and rich in fish, aquatic and marine species. Indeed this coastal zone provides the largest fishery and aquatic resource for the country. The rural people of the area have practiced sustainable land management for centuries. They have their own style of cultivation, using unique traditional expertise and techniques. Local varieties of cultivation were developed by the people, indigenous paddy and fishing, forming the people's main occupations. Most of the land was owned by religio-ethinic minorities; namely the out castes, untouchable and the scheduled castes. These people have a long and valuable experience of traditional agriculture.

Yet, that fertile region is now beset with natural disasters.
The South - West Coastal Wetland
From the ecological point of view, tidal flood plains with mangrove forests are considered a very complex eco-system, which has the highest production of  organic substance. In the south-west tidal flood plains the renewable solar and tidal powers have combined with the recycling process of nutrient production and have creak the most ideal condition for primary production. The primary production of this region is therefore higher than any other region of the world. The wetlands and the organic substances from the forest transform into granular organic substances through the process of decomposition in the water, which plays the principal role in the food cycle of aquatic life. The Sundarbans, the floodplains adjacent to the Sundarbans and the estuaries are the food basket for the coastal marine creatures as well as a safe sanctuary, an ideal breeding and rearing ground. It should be mentioned here that many precious marine species lay eggs in the sea but spend the most important part of their life cycle in the shallow brackish water. Similarly, many species of fish and shrimp spend their life in sweet water by going to the estuary to lay eggs. The tidal flood plains therefore perform the important functions as on indispensable part of their life cycle.

Ashraf-ul-Alam tutu, Adverser, Uttaran; Contact Address: Coastal Development Partnership (CDP), 64, Islampur Road, Khulna. Phone : 725772
Development Intervention
For the development of the country eco-friendly projects and resource management system should be developed, But the natural resources of the country have either been over exploited or remain underutilized. Many plans in the past may have enjoyed temporary success ( and this may be equally appreciable to many development projects being implemented now) but they have long term negative impacts.

The above perspective may generally hold for Bangladesh, but it is especially applicable in reviewing the development activities and formulating plans of action for the South-West Coastal Region of the country.

So the features of characterstics of SWCR should therefore be kept in mind when formulating the development plans and resource management system for the region.

For projects to be intune with the environment, people's participation is the essential ingredient. It needs to be prersent at the planning, designing and implementation stages.

So it is necessary to involve the inhabitants of this region in promoting ecologically sound development ideas and in diciding plans of action for the coastal region. This will require coordinating realistic demands on the environment and the experience of the people and the development objectives.

Devise ecologically sound and judicious ways of using available resources and capabilities to ensure sustainable management of local resources, is basiclly needed which will bring in a positive change in the life of a large number of people.

Cause Behind The Environmental Disasters
In the beginning of the 1960 's, coastal embankments were built to increase agricultural production and to protect human settlements and crops from tidal surges. These embankments have created a permanent change in the region. One of the most remarkable features of this fertile tidal areas is that a large number of valuable marine species spend a vital part of their life cycle in the estuaries and tidal wetland. The depth and natural flow of these estuaries are very much important to protect the bio-diversity. The embankment decreased the depth of the estuaries and tidal prism. Salinity has gradually increased due to the capillary action, large areas of agricultural lands have lost their fertility. Many rivers are drying up due to the increasing levels of silt on their beds.

The embankment project is an attempt to convert the natural coastal wetlands in to a part of the main land. Such high- handed interference in to the extremly sensitive ecosystem was sure to incur long-lasting adverse effects. The polders were errected, the coastal lowland was isolated and become deprive of the silting process, while the land subsidence continued. Consiquently the rivers round the polders gradually decreased their force, the beds have been silting up and finally at present, some of the main rivers have become so shallow that it can be termed environmental and ecological concern of the highest order. In adition to this, some of the important rivers have become silted up to the ground level. Meanwhile the land in the catchment area has settled down due to subsidence and has become water logged. The project objective was to convert the tidal wet-land to dry land for the introduction of High Yielding Varities (HYV) of paddy. Thus greater Khulna has become the victim of the " Green Revolution".

Water logging , Shrimp cultultivation and the Sundarbans

Three important issues of the South-West Coastal Region
Water logging, shrimp cultivation and the Sundarbans are three important issues related to the coastal embankment project.
Water logging has been created by the polders that are unfriendly to the environment. It is an increasing source of misery and hardship in the region. Already, hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by the problem.

Water logging has encouraged the introduction of ecologically destructive large scale shrimp farming which is also anti- people in its nature. It is a hotly debated tropics in the region. Such large scale shrimp cultivation has not only devastating effects on the environment but it also seriously handicaps the socio-economic life of the people.

The Sunderbans, situated in this region, are considered a World heritage. With very rich resources and potentials, the Sunderbans are already wasting. It is our responsibility to save the forest, but the polder system has some profoundly negative impact on the Sunderbans.

In order to promote a holistic view of the development of the South-Western Coastal Region, it is important to built a consensus on these three interrelated issues.

Government and People.
Now within the South-West Coastal Region  of Bangladesh more or less 100600 hectors of land is affected due to water logging in eight thanas of Satkhira, Khulna and Jessore District. This caused the suffering of one million people, and it is increasing day by day gradually.

Now a days due to water logging, a very small fraction of land can be brought under cultivation during the dry spell. Some vast areas of crop land remained under water for more than 10 years. Many villages were submerged, houses collapsed, transportation systems in those areas ceased . As a result, people have been living on embankments and roads, livestock numbers have greatly decreased, procurement of fire wood and drinking water have become very expensive, education of children has been discontinued and waterborne diseases like diarrhoea and scabies become wide spread, people have great difficulties on finding work and hence the income of the poor people has sharply decreased.

This is a massive problem, and people need to be mobilized for sustainable solutions. Traditional knowledge of the people should be used along with the expertise of modern water engineering. Northern "experts" want to impose their ideas, such as infrastructural interventions and engineering solutions. It is very clear that after 5 to 10 years such negative solutions will cause the environment to undergo yet another change leading to further people's suffering.

NGOs has mobilized victims of greater Khulna and Jessore to articulate their views and organize themselves in to pressure groups for overcoming the situation.

In the backdrop of the Government's failure to solve the crisis, people have taken-up alternative concept of their own. For example, in the case of 'Beel Dakatia' the mass movement to solve the water logging problem has been internationally acclaimed.

The people, were pressing hard for formulation of an environmentally friendly project to mitigate water logging problem on the basis of Tidal River Management (TRM) concept.
But the Water Development Board failed to implement the project taking proper account of the existing eco-system.

The latest project aimed at mitigation of waterlogging is the Khulna Jessore Drainage Rehabilitation Project (KJDRP). At the very inception of project on 1995, the local people expressed their doubts about the effectiveness of the project. The people apprehend that the project, if implemented will worsen the situation and multiply peoples sufferings beyond the tolerable limit. So they kept on demanding the review of the project in question.

NGOs gradually got involved with these problems and in  tune with the expectation of the people started organizing advocacy for an eco-friendly solution to the water logging problem. This advocacy program of the NGOs aimed at mitigation of water logging problem of this region has unique characteristics.

Relentless advocacy on the part of Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh ADAB ultimately convinced Asian Development Bank (ADB) to critically review KJDRP.

People and ADB demanded that an independent multidisciplinary team will be entitled to conduct EIA and SIA. The Water development board at first agreed with this proposal but latter on they shifted their stand and appointed EGIS to do this.

Forced by the peoples movement and advocacy of ADAB and CEN and on the basis of study made by EGIS the consultant engineers of KJDRP has changed their drainage plans.

The report submitted by EGIS tries to mislead people cunningly. They divided the project area in two zones Construction of regulator for Beel Dakatia is in progress. They have taken up Tidal Basin Program (KTB- Kedaria Tidal Basin) for western zone (Jessore) which is apparently seems similar to people’s view but very much different in essence.

Apprehended negative effects of proposed plans and peoples opinion:

Negative impact of regulator at the Sholmari River.
The people of Beel Dakatia region are actively against the construction of these regulators.

A sense of apprehension has led them to these regulators that these will create adverse affects not only on their areas but will affects new areas including Sundarbans. The balance of earth subsidence in Beel Dakatia will completely stopped  and new are may be water logged.

The Sunderbans is an important feature of our coastal topography. We can not take any step that could harm the forest, but the proposed project of KJDRP would seriously endanger the ecology of the forest. Waterlogging of newer areas, and the silting up of rivers will give rise to the following problems:

1. The accumulation of alluvials will elevate many areas in the Sunderbans, which will obstruct the tidal operations and endenger the mangrove forests.

2. Salinity will increase.
3. Leaves that fall from the trees supply nutrients to the water which is a food source to the sea creatures. Increasing number of polders will hamper the supply of this organic nutrient.

Apprehended negative impacts of Kahimpur Regulator.
  KJDRP authority is trying to build a regulator on the Bhadra at Kashimpur to construct tidal basin in Beel Kedaria. The local people are also against this regulator.

  The regulator be constructed at Kashimpur, will ultimately result in silting up of the southern portion of the river, with consequent ecological disaster in a vast area.

Negative impacts will be:

a. New areas and human habitations will become water logged.

b. Local system of production will crumble down. Particularly the production of vegetables, rice and other crops will be seriously affected due to scarcity of water.

c. Disruption of water ways will threaten the existence of markets along the rivers banks, and will result in shrinkage of employment opportunity of the people dependent on the rivers for their livelihood.

d. Traditional fish species will become scarce.
e. It will create adverse impact on subsoil water level.

With the above, perspective in view a committee named Khulna-Jessore-Satkhira Water logging Mitigation Struggle Co-ordination Cmittee has been formed consisting social workers environmental activities journalists and members of various professions of the affected areas under KJDRP Project.

In this situation, it is necessary to formulate Tidal River Management (TRM) project on the basis of people’s participatory approach.

Shrimp cultivation:
 Shrimp Cultivation has given rise to an intense debate in our society. On the one hand, shrimp farming is expanding fast in this region, with newer areas coming under its operation every years, influential outsiders are setting up large farms whose style of operation is causing a great deal of social tension, with the result that the farms have come to the center of accusations about oppression, gruesome torture, rape, ecological destruction, etc.

  The reality is, however, that in the local and national newspapers sensational reports of murder and violence against women are coming out every day; different political parties, people's organization and social bodies irrespective of their affiliation and political beliefs, are taking a stand against oppression by the owners of the large farms. they are being compared with indigo planters, majority believe that shrimp farming is an anti people and exploitative activity.

The impact of shrimp farming on the environment, economy and social system is quite complex, many studies and researches have been conducted in this particular area. Many expert environmentalists and development planners have, from their research and investigation come to the conclusion that shrimp farming is an 'interventionists act on the environment', that is 'in tolerable and harmful' and an 'anti-people activity'.

  Among the negative social impacts, we have identified the following: forcing local land owners to start shrimp farms, defaulting on land rents, violation of human rights, oppression of women, intolerable atmosphere at the work places, child labor, ever increasing social disparity and concentration at vast resources in the hands of a minority group.

Districts and thanas of South West Coastal Region, where shrimp farms are located.:

District Thana (Subdistrict)
Khulna Dumuria, Paikgacha, Koira, Batiaghata, Dakop, Rupsa.
Bagerhat Mongla, Rampal, Fakirhat, Mollahat, Morelgonj, Sharankhola, Bagerhat, Chitalmari.
Satkhira Satkhira, Debhata, Kaligonj, Ashashuni, Shyam nagar, Tala.
Jessore Keshabpur, Monirumpur.

Within the above mentioned sub districts the following are within the Impact zone of Sundarbans (Within 10-20 Km of Sundarbans).

District Thana (Sub district)
Khulna Paikgache, Koira, Batiaghata, Dakop.
Bagerhat  Mongla, Morelgonj, Sharan khaola
Satkhira Kaliganj, Ashasuhi, Shyam nagar,

The rate of expansion of shrimp cultivation.:

In Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat districts, from 1982-83 to 88-89, areas under shrimp cultivation increased at yearly rate of 16.6%.

Necessary Steps.
In order to resist the negative impacts of shrimp farming and violation of human rights, the first important will be the change government's rule about shrimp farming.

 The coastal area should be zoning properly and after careful consideration only, shrimp farming would be allowed within shrimp zone.

Shrimp farming should not be inspired but if it is completed to allow then focus should be given on developing environment and eco-friendly method of cultivation and a farm system that will ensure peoples participation.

 And to ensure people's  participation in shrimp farming (within shrimp zone). The first step should be to resist the outsider farm owners from taking illegal advantages and facilities. No violation of human rights should go unchllenged-- the culprits. whoever they are, should be brought to book. People  should be vigilant about such incidents. It should be mentioned here that the non-local large gher owners are one of the main obstacles in people's involvement in shrimp farming, and a successful solution of the problems they have created can lead to a conducive atmosphere for people's participation.

 There should also be specific policy, rules and regulations about absentee owners setting up large scale ghers in the area. No farms should be allowed to be set up without the people, and without the assurance of paying adequate rent for land. No one person should be allowed to own more than two farms and the area of the farm should be restricted within a specific acreage.

 The policy should also ensure that the daily life of the people is in no way disrupted by shrimp farms set up by non-local owners, and that these owners strictly adhere to the stipulations.

The Sunderbans
The Sunderbans occupy a large part of the South-West Coastal Region, and are the largest mangrove forest in the world. The forest is considered a world heritage. The Sunderbans account for 4.2% of the total land area of Bangladesh, and about 40% of the country's forests. Sunderbans have a very important contribution behind the environment, ecology and resources of the entire South-West Coastal Region. About 4% of the total population of greater Khulna and Barisal districts depend on Sunderbans.

The Sunderbans is situated at the extreme south-western coastal region of Bangladesh between 21031 longitudes, and 890  and 900   latitudes.

The total land area of Sunderbans is 1,01,600 hecters, of which forest land occupies 3,95,500 hectares and the remaining 6,100 hecters is not forested Rivers and canals occupy 175,600 hecters.

Socio-economic importance
In a normal year, more than 300,000 persons are employed in various occupations inside the forest-- such as cutting wood, fishing, collecting honey and other forest products like golpata (large leaves), hay, mele etc. Apart from those employed by contructors for specific jobs, people from the sarrounding villages also depend on the Sunderbans for their day-to-day life. They usually collect firewood, timber for constructing boats, or poles for building houses, and other house building matarials as well as golpata ,shal or mele for thatching. Besides resin from the mangrove trees for use in fishing nets, honey, wax, lime (snail lime) freash fish and different other fish for drying are also collected.

Ecological features of the Sundarbans
The Sundarbans are basically tidal flood plains. The forest is regularly flushed by tidal flows. Mangrove trees predominate in the forest region (except for some coconut, raintree and mahogany trees planted by the forestry department). A special feature of the trees is that the breathing roots of the trees (known locally as shula) shoot out of the (alluvial) soil and reach a little above the general water level. The roots of trees breathe in the oxygen contained in the porous soil, but the alluvial soil of the Sundarbans is non-porous -- so the roots have to spread upward until they break free from the soil. The trees grow well in tidal waters.

A total of 2.3 - 3.5 million tons of fallen leaves and other organic substances accumulate in the Sundarbans every year. This matter is drawn in to the sea by the tidal outflows and, through decomposition, turn in to a huge food source for marine fish and animals.

The problems of the Sundarbans

The problems of the Sundarbans can be divided in to two categories:
a. Problem related to physical changes
b. Procurement and plunder of resources

a. Problems related to physical changes
We have already mentioned that the Sundarbans is a mangrove forest. These trees need regular tidal flows for proper groth. But at present tidal operations are restricted at a number of places by the silting up of rivers and the elevation of land due to silt accumulation at certain areas. This is affecting the natural groth and other aspects of the mangrove trees.

The increase in salinity has also affected the tree population in many areas. According to an estimate, about 332,248 sundari trees of 19,040 acre areas suffered from 'top dying' disease in 1990-91. There has been no 'top -dying' census after that. The forest department sells off these diseased trees through public auction.

The Sundari trees are lighted by top-dying disease as a result of an increased salinity and accumulation of silt in the rivers. As the river levels fall, saline water from the sea entires these rivers and increase salinity. Similarly folders built to words the north block the entry of sweet water, which is drastically reducing sweet water flow in the rivers of the Sundarbans. It has been estimated that in the 55 compartments of the forest, about a quarter of the areas have top-dying sundari trees. To sum up, the Sundarbans have been affected by.

1. The folders -- Which have caused silting up of rivers, waterlogging and salinity, leading to drastic changes in the forest's  ecology, and

2. Increase in alluvial and silt in the rivers --  Which is a result of the degradation of the Himalayan range. Before the folder system, silt used to spread over the beels through the canals, but now it accumulates in the river, choking them in the long run.

b. Procurement and plunder of resources
One of the main reasons for the degradation of the Sundarbans has been the procurement and plunder of the forest's resources. Illegal logging for commercial reasons, destruction of different species of fish fries while collecting prawn fries etc. have greatly diminished the plant and animal resources of the Sundarbans.

A part of the forest is also destroyed in the process of supplying firewood to about 50,000 people who are engaged in catching prawn and shrimp fries in the Sundarbans. According to an estimate of the forest department, about 250.31 million prawn fries were collected from the Sundarbans in the 1995-96 financial year. The revenue yielded by the catch stood at 12.8 million take. On the other hand, the forest department earned a total of 62.1 million take from prawn fries, white fish, large shrimp (prawn), small shrimp, dried fish, hilsa fish, crabs etc. in 1994-95 financial year.

Illegal poaching of animals is another big problems for the Sundarbans. Killing of tigers has increased as international demand for tiger parts has increased. Dears are also being killed in large number as demand has increased locally.

Coordinated planning and management needed for protecting the Sundarbans

Action is needed on two fronts to save Sundarbans :
a. Protection and development of the resources of the Sundarbans.
b. Buildings awareness about any development plane or its implementation that may harm the Sundarbans.

a. Protection and development of the resources of the Sundarbans :

Co-ordinated efforts must be taken to save the protection and development of the resources of the Sunderbans by all the agencies which have a stake in the forest -- the government, NGOs, international organizations, environmentalists, wildlife experts and preservers etc. There should be detailed plans to protect the forest and its environment and utilize the resources -- trees, animals, fish -- for national development. At the same time necessary infrastracture should be built to promote the immense tourism potentialities of the forest.

b. Mass awareness building programme against projects hostile to the environment

We cannot take any steps that might harm the Sundarbans, but the proposed projects of KJDRP will be harmful for the forest. Fresh waterlogging and silting up of the rivers will result in.

1. An increased accumulation of silt in the Sundarbans which will raise the level of land and increase salinity, and

2. A serious disruption in the supply of organic nutrients and micro nutrients to the marine species. Fallen leaves washed into the sea by tidal outflows provide  the micro nutrients through the process of decomposition, but the polder system poses a threat to it.

The Sundarbans Biodiversity Conservation Project description in Brief –
Objective and Scope of the Project.

‘The immediate objective to achieve, within 7 years, the development of a sustainable management and biodiversity conservation system for all SRF resources, on the basis of rational plans and the participation of all they stakeholders. The proposed project area includes the SRF itself and the surrounding 15 thanas located within 0-20 km out side the SRF border, referred as the impact zone. The project will establish a participative system for the conservation and sustainable management of the SRF as a multi-dimensional resource area. An integrated approach will be taken to (i) biodivrsity conservation and improved forest management (ii) Improved institutional capacityto manage the SRF it self, (iii) reducing the poverty ……… of the 2-3 million people living in the impact zone bordering the SRF through expanding economic opportunities, improved social infra structure, improved organization for resource users, and facilitating stakeholder participation in resource management and (iv) adopting a supportive set of policies, especially regarding charging economic prices for access to SRF resources.

Components  of the project
To achieve the said objectives the consultants have proposed the following 4 Components :
(i) Ensuring effective management of the SRF.

(ii) Biodiversity conservation and sustainable resource management.

(iii) Social and economic development of the impact zone.

(iv) Eco-tourism development and marketing.

For social and economic development of the impact zone. The project proposed, Through planned social investments, improved access to social services including education and awareness regarding the SRF and associated NGO operations to support poverty reduction, facilitate primary stakeholder participation in management and decision making through LCOs, and micro credit to (a) promote alternative income generation activities in the impact zone bordering this SRF, and (b) for organized …………. Groups to exploit SRF resources on a sustainable basis. Emphasis will be placed on achieving greater awareness of the need for sustainable exploitation of the SRF, and on ways of ……… king  conservation to local economic duration

The impact zone area lies outside the border of the SRF and therefore is not within the juries diction of the FD. The Bangladesh Rural Development Border (BRDB) will be the implementing agency for the project with respect to activities in support it social infrastructure and social services, and economic development in the impact zone. BRDB, at the thana …………, in close collaboration with participating NGOs, will ensure the co-ordination of Projct financed activities. Selected NGOs will be largely responsible for implementation of community development programs and for promoting sustainable economic development. The ……….. – Karme, Sahyak foundation (PKSF) will be the implementing agency for micro credit activities under the froject.

Review of the Project.

In this project, for economic development of the people within impact zone, micro credit is given emphasis. But in the maximum thanas within the Impact zone.Shrimp cultivation is extremely practised. In this perspective, there is very limited scope for alternative job opportunity. So it is apprehend that micro-credit will increase the involvement of people with present practice of shrimp cultivation and illegal resource collection from sundarbans.

So for biodiversity conservation of Sundarbans and social economic development of the people of impact zone, a environmentally friendly outlook on Shrimp culture is urgently needed.

A holistic Outlook is needed :

It is imperative to properly realige the ………….. of environment and ecology of SWCR. The region has been subjected to different kinds environmental unbalance and natural disasters ….. since the implementation of development projects that are clearly at adds with the region’s.

Environmental characteristics and are ecologically ………

There are there main issues that any plan for development of the region should address. These are water logging, shrimp cultivation and the Sundarbans. These ………………….. be handed from a proper perspective.

The objection Sundarbans Bio-diversity consecration project is to protect the biodiversity of Sundarbans and develop the socio-economic condition of the people of Impact zone, ………….., The KJDRP project, if implemented will seriously harm the forest. Asian Development Bank, as the donor to both the projects, should consider the irony inherent in the contradictory natures of these projects, and should resolve it in favour of the fragile ecology of the forest.

A project to develop the Sundarbans and protect the environment is being prepared with financial help from Asian Development Bank. However, the KJDRP project, if implemented, will seriously harm the forest. Asian Development Bank, as the donor to both these projects, should consider the irony inherent in the contradictory nature of these projects, and should resolve it in favour of the health and integrity of the fragile ecology of the forest.

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