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(Perspective, Introduction And Activities In Brief ):

CITIZENS'  FORUM FOR CONSERVING THE  BIO-DIVERSITY OF THE
SUNDERBAN RESERVE FOREST

With a population of 120 million which is ever on the increase, Bangladesh is a developing country in the Third World. Though the country has an area of only 147,502 square km, it can be divided into several distinct regions according to their Natural features. One such region is the South-western Coastal Region of Bangladesh, which has developed as the delta of three major river systems, namely, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna,  in the eastern part of the South Asian sub-continent. This region consists of the districts of Satkhira, Khulna and Bagerhat and the southern portion of Jessore district, and is distinguished for its unique natural features and environmental characteristics and its abundance of bio-diversity.

The Sunderban forest situated at the mouth of the Gangetic Delta is known as the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world. In an area of 401,600 hectares, it contains 330 species of plants, 270 species of birds and 42 species of mammals including the world famous Royal Bengal Tiger. The maze of innumerable rivers, creeks and estuaries that cut through the forest provides an abundant feeding and breeding ground for  numerous fishes and other marine species. The tidal flood plains adjacent to the Sunderbans and the rivers and canals that flow through them provide not only a rich feeding ground for all kinds of aquatic animals but also a safe haven and secure breeding ground for them. A number of valuable marine species spend a significant part of their lives in these brackish waters. This coastal mangrove forest is capable of producing an abundance of organic matter and the tidal flood plains can be considered a region of complex and highly sensitive bio-diversity.

Human economic activities have always interfered with the environment and ecology of his surroundings, and in many regions it has also endangered the environment, and the Sunderban forest is not an exception. The same has happened to the Sunderbans also. As such, the survival of the Sunderban is a matter of concern for environmental activists. Already six species of mammals have become locally extinct, while 46 wildlife species are enlisted as endangered. The area as well as the thickness of the Sunderban forest has declined to half of what it used to be a hundred and fifty years ago. The Sundari trees have now been affected by what is known as the "top-dying" disease. On February 4, 1999, the Sunderban forest has been declared a "World Heritage" site, as a result of which, better protection, conservation  and management can be expected.

For any development program to be successful, it is necessary that it be friendly to the environment and ecology of the region and possess sustainable and skilled management. But unfortunately, many projects in the past have caused either over-exploitation of Natural resources, or left them under or un-utilised. Many projects in the past may have yielded short-term gains, but have eventually proved disastrous to the environment as well as to the lives and livelihoods of the people.  The same thing could be said of many projects that are at present under implementation. In order that the projects be implemented in an environment-friendly manner, the active participation of the local people must be ensured at all stages from planning, designing and implementation to monitoring, combined with realistic need assessment and the proper utilization of the skills and experience of the people. In order to bring about a positive transformation in the lives of the people living in this region, it is necessary to evolve environment-friendly methodologies that will utilise the skills of the people and the resources of the region, so that a sustainable management of the region's resources can be ensured.

During the decade of the 1960's, the Coastal Embankment Project was implemented in this region. The embankments were built for the purpose of enhancing agricultural production as well as to protect the lives and crops of the people from tidal surges. These embanknments have brought about a permanent transformation of the entire region. A unique feature of this tide-washed land of ours is that a rich variety of marine species spend a significant portion of their lives in the rivers and tidal flood-plains of the region. It is therefore essential that the depth and navigability of the rivers and canals be maintained to conserve this rich bio-diversity. But as a result of the construction of the embanknments, not only the depth of the rivers and the area of the tidal prism have decreased, but the salinity of the area has also gradually increased. The increased salinity has reduced the fertility of the land. As  one of the results of the construction of the embanknments, the silt carried by the tides are now being deposited on the river-beds, which has resulted in drainage congestion and subsequent water-logging over a large area, causing a lot of suffering to hundreds of thousands of people. Later on, as a result of the transformation of the environment, people have been compelled to look for alternative livelihoods, which has further damaged the environment. These embankments are responsible for the ever increasing salinity of the south-western coastal region, and this enhanced salinity has also negatively influenced the Sunderbans.

People dependent on the Resources of the Sunderbans :

On of the principal cause of degradation of the Sunderban forest is the over-exploitation and plundering of its resources. As a result of illegal extraction of timber and other non-timber forest products as well as the massive destruction of huge numbers of post-larvae and fry of other varieties of shrimps and fishes while collecting the post-larvae of Bagda shrimps have drastically reduced the resources of the Sunderbans. Generally every year about 300,000

people are engaged in collecting timber, firewood, honey and beeswax, thatching materials, meley reeds and in fishing in the Sunderbans. In addition to the people employed by the contractors, the people living in the vicinity of the Sunderbans are also dependent on the forest to a great extent. The fuel-wood needs of nearly 50,000 people who enter the Sunderbans to collect post-larvae of shrimps have also contributed to the denuding of the forest. During the fiscal year 1995-96 alone, more than 293 million post-larvae of Bagda shrimps have been collected from the Sunderbans.

The animal resources of the Sunderbans are also being exploited illegally. As a result of high demand and very high prices in the international market for tiger skins, many tigers are being killed. Deer are also being illegally hunted to meet local demands.

The Sunderban Bio-Diversity Conservation Project :

In order to conserve the bio-diversity of the Sunderbans by means of appropriate environment-friendly policies, a US$ 82 million project has been approved, titled the Sunderban Bio-diversity Conservation Project(SBCP).The funds for the project will be formed with Grants from the Global Environment Fund and Nordic Development Fund and a loan from the Asian Development Bank(ADB). The different components of the project include :-

1) Reorganization and development of a workable framework of the Forest Departnment
centered at Khulna.
2) Conservation of Bio-Diversity and development of forest management;
3) Eradication of poverty of the people living in the "Impact Zone": or  "Buffer Zone"
adjacent to the forest by means of expanded economic opportunities;
4) Formulation of appropriate policies for fixing realistic values for the resources to be
extracted from the forest.
The proposed Sunderban Bio-Diversity Conservation Project has been divided into five parts :-
A. For effective management of the Reserved Forest :

1) A Sunderban Management Agency;
2) A Sunderban Stewardship Council;
3) A Stakehiolders' Advisory Council;
4) Development of Infrastructure;
5) Mass Education Programme for creating Awareness among gthe people about the importance of the Sunderbans.
B. For Reform and Capacity Development of the Forest Department :
In order that the Forest Department be capable of initiating projects for conservation of the bio-diversity of the Sunderbans including all the animal and plant resources of the forest, as well as the three wild life preserves within the forest.

A Brief Description of the "Impact Zone" of the Sunderban Forest :

The Impact Zone or Area Dependent on the Sunderbans consists of 17 upazilas around the perimeter of the forest. There are about 200 Unions situated in this zone. Out of these, the inhabitants of about 60 Unions are directly involved in the extraction of resources from the Sunderbans.  The majority of these 60 Unions are in three of the 17 upazilas, namely, Shyamnagar in Satkhira district, Koyra in Khulna district aand Sarankhola in Bagerhat district.

A New Curse for the people inhabiting the Impact Zone :
During the 1980's, Shrimp Aquaculture came as a new curse in the Impact Zone of the Sunderbans. The principal economic activity in the region at present is shrimp aqua-culture. The agfricultural lands of the region have now been transformed into shrimp ponds known locally as "gher". A dramatic change has occurred in the traditional occupations of share-croppers, agricultural labourers, small and marginal farmeras, fishermen and others.
Though this change is said to be beneficial in the macro-economic sense, it is questionable. But in the local sphere, shrimp cultivation  has thrown an evil shadow over the lives of the people of the region, especially the poor.  The shrimp farmers have forcibly occupied the agricultural lands of the poor and marginal farmers, as a result of which they have now turned to the forest in search of an alternative source of livelihood, thus increasing pressure on the steadily depleting resources of the Sunderbans.  But at the same time, the local people have been, for over a decade, engaged in a movement against shrimp aquaculture, even at great risk to their lives. They want to get back their lands; they want to produce crops and local varieties of fish to meet local requirements.

The people in the impact zone believe that if the government prohibits shrimp aquaculture in the region and if the local people resume agricultural activities, the poor and marginal farmers will be benefited and a lot of employment opportunities will be created in agriculture and related activities.

Cattle rearing and keeping of poultry and ducks have also been negatively affected by shrimp farming. As all sources of employment have become closed, large numbers of the affectedd people have been constrained to turn to collection of shrimp fry or post-larvae as an alternative occupation. In a survey conducted by NGOs, it has been found in the occupational map that shrimp fry collection is the only occupation that is carried on in the Sunderban throughout the year. In a chart representing the changes that have occurred in the last 30 years, the depletion of shrimp post-larvae is clearly depicted. Even the shrimp fry collectors say that it is not sustainable, and the crab and shell collectors are also of the same opinion.  In the above mentioned NGO study, it was found that the only cause for the depletion of other species is shrimp aquaculture.  According to that study report, shrimp aquaculture is also responsible for many other impacts. As a result of decrease in the availability of rice straw for thatching, resulting from the decrease in agriculture, wild hay from the Sunderbans is being over-exploited.  The increase in salinity of the region has killed off all vegetation, resulting in acute shortage of fuel wood, for which also pressure has increased on the resources of the Sunderbans. The reduction in the number of cattle has also reduced the availability of cow-dung which is used as an alternative to fire-wood.

Peoples' Recommendations :
The people dependent on the Sunderbans as well as the inhabitants of the Impact zone are unanimous in their opinion that strict rules must be promulgated in respect of commercial extraction of the resources of the Sunderbans and such rules must be strictly enforced.  The Forest Department must be decentralised and it must be made transparent and accountable to the local people. The present management and security systems of the Forest Departnment will have to be changed into an efficient, responsible and democratic institution. All the stakeholders who follow different occupations and have economuic interests in the resources of the Sunderbans  must be united without any class or gender based discrimination and be granted equal rights to enjoy the benefits from the forest, so that they shall voluntarily engage themselves in protecting and conserving the bio-diversity of the Sundrebans. A responsible credit system coupled with alternative means of employment will also be necessary. But the importance of one factor cannot be denied, and that is : In all development initiatives for the Sunderbans (from planning to implementation and monitoring) the active participation of the people must be ensured, and in respect of monitoring, local, national and international NGOs must be involved.

Review Of The Proposed Project :
Though most of the opinions of the people have been considered in the project proposed by the Asian Development Bank, many of them have also been disregarded. It is true that from the point of view of ADB, the principal financier of the project, the project has been designed on the fundamental issues of Conservation, Production and Participation, but equal importance has also been given to other aspects, such as enumeration of natural resources, zoning of different areas, formulation of appropriate policies for land use and formulation of approprioate policies for realistic utilization of the peoples' resources, that is , the forest resources.  In spite of the positive viewpoint of the bank in recognising the increasng importance of all aquatic resources including fish in ensuring food security, the project has  not approved the destruction of mangrove forest for the purpose of shrimp cultivation, and criticised the processes that destroy the biodiversity while extracting the resources of the Sunderbans. The ever increasing environmental pollution in the areas adjacent to the Sunderbans has also found place in the project document.

Though the project document admits that poverty has increased in the region because the agricultural lands have been made into Shrimp ponds, only micro-credit has been proposed as the means to eliminate poverty, without expressing any need for enquiry as to how it is used. Simply proposing cattle rearing and poultry farming without suggesting any method to stop the spread of shrimp farming is like being an ostrich.  As investment in those enterprises have proved profitable in other areas of the country, it has been taken for granted that those pursuits will be profitable in this region too, though the local inhabitants believe that the salinity spread by shrimp aquaculture had destroyed all grazing and thus made such pursuits extinct. Hence, what is likely to happen is that they may buy boats and nets and go to the Sunderbans to collect shrimp fry, or invest the loan money in shrimp aquaculture itself, as a result of which the environment will be further degraded and the ecological balance in the Sundderbans will be lost Therefore it is necessary to think more seriously about the negative impacts of shrimp aquaculture in the Impact Zone of  the Sunderbans and formulate appropriate policies for the region. It has already been accepted that shrimp aquaculture is not suastainable, whether in the extensive form or in the intensive form. The foreign exchange earned by the export of processed shrimps is nothing compared to the colossal damage to the environment and the socio-economic well-being of the people. Reports of spontaneous movements against shrimp aquaculture have been appearing in the newspapers every now and then. In this perspective, the silence of the project document on this subject is not understandable.

In the absence of strict monitoring and accountability to the people, the "Eco-Tourism" proposed in the project document is likely to further damage the environment.  Unscrupulous tour companies are likely to construct permanent habitations inside the forest in the name of constructing "tourist lodges".  As such, for the appropriate development of this industry, environmentally conscious tour companies as well as environmentally conscious tourists are necessary. When faulty administration and lack of monitoring have been pointed out as the main weakness throughout the country including the Sunderbans, merely formulating a project for conservation without  thoroughly reforming the entire system, will be simply like giving a facelift. It will not be advisable also to neglect the projects that are on-going or in the offing in areas adjacent to the Sunderbans, especially in the water resource sector. Under the Khulna Jessore Drainage Rehabilitation Project (KJDRP) aided by the Asian Development Bank, controversial regulators are being built only a few km  upstream from the Sunderbans.It will also not be advisable to neglect other proposed or on-going projects like the Gorai River Rehabilitation Project or the Ganges Barrage project. Though the closure of the environmentally polluting Khulna Newsprint mill has been proposed, nothing has been said about the other polluting industries or the port of Mongla. Therefore it is necessary to revise the project under an integrated, all-encompassing, point of view. The antecedents of the Advisory organizations to be appointed in connection with the project will also have to be closely examined, especially as regards their roles in respect of environment participatory development.
The present process of issuing licences to prospect for petroleum and gas will also need to be carefully considered.  If any accident of the nature of Magurchara ever happens in the vicinity of the Sunderbans, it will result in colossal damage to the environment and bio-diversity of the Sunderbans.

According to the understanding between the Advisors of the project and ADAB, the latter was to be involved at every stage of the project from its planning and designing till selection of NGOs, which has, however, not been implemented. ADAB is willing to play the role of a coordinator. Moreover it is pledge-bound  to ensure the participation of the people at all stages of the project, from planning to implementation.

As such it is absolutely clear that the protection and development of the Sunderban Reserve Forest will be possible only when the people are actively involved with the project from the very start.  Wherever there may arise a conflict of interest, the environment and the interests of the marginal group will get priority.

This project is in respect of a peoples' resource. As such the people have the right to all information in connection with this project. Full participation of the people is essential for the success of any project of this nature. The Sunderbans is not only our own heritage, it is now a World Heritage. As such, the responsibility for its security and conservation is ours too.

CITIZENS' FORUM FOR CONSERVING THE BIO-DIVERSITY OF THE
SUNDERBAN CONSERVATION.

On June 2, 1998, at a meeting attended by environmental and development activists, journalists, peoples' representatives, local professional people, businessmen, etc., a Citizens' Forum for Monitoring Sunderban Bio-Diversity Conservation was formed for the purpose of monitoring the implementation of the project as well as to enhance the awareness of the people regarding the subject. Development activist and chairperson of ADAB Khulna chapter

Kazi Wahiduzzaman was named as Convenor while the then Secretary of Khulna District Bar Association, Advocate Firoz Ahmed, Secretary of Khulna Press Club Manik Saha, Bangladesh Medical Association central Vice-President Dr. Baharul Alam and development activist Mustafa Nurruzzaman were chosen as co-convenors. This 51-member Citizens' Committee was convened with environmental activist Ashraf-ul-Alam Tutu as its member-secretary.  Later several discussion meetings in the Impact zonde in the districts of Bagerhat and Satkhira, a workshop in Khulna, publications etc. were organised by the Committee.  The committee also formulated a set of recommendations in accordance with the opinions of the people.

Proposed Recommendations :
1) The active partici[pation of the local people, especially who derive their livelihoods from
the resources of the Sunderbans must be ensured, without any discrimination as to class, occupation or gender, in the planning, implementation and monitoring of the project. Assessment of peoples' opinions in respect of all similar projects for bio-diversity conservation, especially in respect of such wetland areas that come under the definitions of the Ramsar convention, is also essential.
2) All such projects must be strictly reviewed and all necessary information must be provided to all concerned. In other words, all projects to be implemented in Khulna and Barisal divisions will have to be evaluated and be kept open for review.
3) All information in respect of the proposed Sunderban Bio-Diversity Conservation Project shall be made easily available to all national and international NGOs and other individuals and organizations.
4) The gradual expansion of shrimp aquaculture as the principal economic activity in the areas adjacent to the Sunderbans must be taken into cognizance and corrective steps need to be taken.
5) Before the construction of any works on any river or other water-course that may directly or indirectly have any impact on the Sunderbans, they must be closely reviewed in an impartial manner and the possible impacts must be correctly assessed.

6) Collection of naturally occurring shrimp fry and post-larvae must be totally prohibited, after ensuring alternative livelihoods for the people engaged in that occupation.
Policy must be formulated in respect of Shrimp Aquaculture and while deciding on the area where it will be permitted, necessary importance must be given to public interest and
environmental issues.
7) Environment-friendly land-use policies must be formulated.

We have repeatedly emphasised the fact that the Sunderban Bio-diversity Conservation Project, in the light of the existing realities, needs to be reviewed extensively. The river management activities in the Ganges flood plain usually have a great impact on the south-western coastal region including the Sunderbans. As such, the on-going and proposed projects for this region, such as the Khulna Jessore Drainage Rehabilitation Project and the Ganges Barrage Project will have to be thoproughly reviewed. Industrial pollution, the pollution generated by the Mongla port, pollution caused by oil spills, need to be taken into serious consideration.

The proposed petroleum and gas prospecting programmes will need to be reviewed in the light of the need for conservation of the bio-diversity of the Sunderbans.

"Eco-Tourism" has been mentioned as a component of the project. Already there exist "Eco-Tourism" programmes worldwide in environmentally and ecologically important areas. Though they earn much foreign exchange, they are creating a negative impact on the environment and ecology of their respective areas.  We need, therefore, to be careful in this respect.
 
 







Guidelines for Sunderban Bio-diversity Conservation Project Watch Committee

Background

The Sunderban forest situated at the mouth of the Gangetic Delta is known as the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world. In an area of 401,600 hectares, it contains 330 species of plants, 270 species of birds and 42 species of mammals including the world famous Royal Bengal Tiger. The maze of innumerable rivers, creeks and estuaries that cut through the forest provides an abundant feeding and breeding ground for  numerous fishes and other marine species. The tidal flood plains adjacent to the Sunderbans and the rivers and canals that flow through them provide not only a rich feeding ground for all kinds of aquatic animals but also a safe haven and secure breeding ground for them. A number of valuable marine species spend a significant part of their lives in these brackish waters. This coastal mangrove forest is capable of producing an abundance of organic matter and the tidal flood plains can be considered a region of complex and highly sensitive bio-diversity.

Human economic activities have always interfered with the environment and ecology of his surroundings, and in many regions it has also endangered the environment, and the Sunderban forest is not an exception. Already six species of mammals have become locally extinct, while 46 wildlife species are enlisted as endangered. The area as well as the thickness of the Sunderban forest has declined to half of what it used to be a hundred and fifty years ago. The Sundari trees have now been affected by what is known as the "top-dying" disease. On February 4, 1999, the Sunderban forest has been declared a "World Heritage" site, as a result of which, better protection, conservation  and management can be expected.

During the decade of the 1960's, the Coastal Embankment Project was implemented in this region. The embankments were built for the purpose of enhancing agricultural production as well as to protect the lives and crops of the people from tidal surges. Though these embanknments helped increase the production of food-grains for about a decade and a half, its negative effects, ac cumulating through the years, have caused massive environmental degradation. More than 106,000 hectares of land have become water-logged, making the land unproductive and throwing hundreds of thousands into unemployment. Salinity has spread farther inland; even the soil has become saline, killing off all vegetation. This usually food-surplus region is now witnessing a food deficit, and thousands of women and children are suffering from malnutrition and water-borne diseases.

All the above ravages has increased peoples' dependence on the Sunderbans, as a result of which the already depleting resources of the forest are over-exploited, destroying the sustainability of the forest. The shrimp cultivation which began expanding since the 1980's has also destroyed agriculture as well as contributed largely to the destruction of aquatic bio-diversity. The shrimp fry collectors not only kill off more than 20 fry of other species for every single shrimp fry collected, they also illegally utilise forest resources during their stay in the Sunderbans, where 50,000 shrimp fry collectors enter every week. Thousands more enter the forest to collect wood, nipa palm fronds and hay for thatching, honey and beeswax, and thousands more go there for fishing.

The animal resources of the Sunderbans are also being exploited illegally. As a result of high demand and very high prices in the international market for tiger skins, many tigers are being killed. Deer are also being illegally hunted to meet local demands.

The Area dependent on the Sunderbans consists of 17 upazilas around the perimeter of the forest. It is knows as Impact Zone of the Sunderbans. There are about 200 Unions situated in this zone. Out of these, the inhabitants of about 60 Unions are directly involved in the extraction of resources from the Sunderbans.  The majority of these 60 Unions are in three of the 17 upazilas, namely, Shyamnagar in Satkhira district, Koyra in Khulna district aand Sarankhola in Bagerhat district.

The people in the impact zone believe that if the government prohibits shrimp aquaculture in the region and if the local people resume agricultural activities, the poor and marginal farmers will be benefited and a lot of employment opportunities will be created in agriculture and related activities. Cattle rearing and keeping of poultry and ducks have also been negatively affected by shrimp farming.

The Sunderban Bio-Diversity Conservation Project :

In order to conserve the bio-diversity of the Sunderbans by means of appropriate environment-friendly policies, a US$ 77 million project has been approved, titled the Sunderban Bio-diversity Conservation Project(SBCP).The funds for the project will be formed with Grants from the Global Environment Fund and Nordic Development Fund and a loan from the Asian Development Bank(ADB). The different components of the project include :-

1) Reorganization and development of a workable framework of the Forest Departnment
centered at Khulna.
2) Conservation of Bio-Diversity and development of forest management;
3) Eradication of poverty of the people living in the "Impact Zone": or  "Buffer Zone"
adjacent to the forest by means of expanded economic opportunities;
4) Formulation of appropriate policies for fixing realistic values for the resources to be
extracted from the forest.
5) Development of Infrastructure;
6)  Mass Education Programme for creating Awareness among the people about the importance of the Sunderbans.

Position of ADAB and CEN

In the first week of July 2000, Sundarban Bio-diversity Conservation Project Authorities in a meeting shared their draft inception report with ADAB. Upon receipt of the draft report, ADAB shared the same with its member NGOs working in the SBCP impact zone. Taking into consideration the national interest, importance and significance as well as various environmental issues of the entire wetland conservation, ADAB on its own initiative organized a day long meeting to discuss the draft inception report. ADAB Chapter Members from Khulna, Barisal and Patuakhli assembled together in Khulna to learn about SBCP, review the inception report and reach consensus on ADAB and members' stand on the project. In the meeting a seven member committee was formed to draft ADAB’s Position Paper on SBCP which will be followed and advocated by its members.
 

ADAB’s position  paper is categorized broadly in three sections. The 1st section deals with the general aspect while the 2nd section reviewed the technical portion of the inception report. The 3rd section deals with NGO selection and other important aspects of the project. Important portions of the Position Papers are :-

Section - 1 General Review:

ADAB and its member organizations cordially welcome the Sundarban Biodiversity Conservation Project and express their solidarity with its goal and objective as stated in the draft inception report.
ADAB appreciates the efforts being made by the government and other support agencies in the mobilization of resources for the effective conservalion of the Sundarban Reserved Forest and its ecosystem.

To encourage peoples' participation and promote consultaion process in SBCP, formation of several commissions, committees and groups was proposed, such as Sundarban Stewardship Commission (SSC); Project Steering Committee (PSC), Stakeholders Advisory Council (SAC), Resource Users Group (RUG), But their composition, roles and responsibilites are not specificd or clearly defined. It is also not clear how their voices will influence or reflcct in the decision making process.

It seems NGOs alongwith PKSF and LGED will be playing a significant role particularly in the component C which is basically for the socio-economic development of the SBCP impact zone. But If NGOs are required to be involved then they must be involved in (i) Decision making procedures, (ii) Project design and planning process, and finally (iii) implementation, monitoring and evaluation process.

If NGOs need to be involved, it is desirable to involve its apex body ADAB. Needless to mention that ADAB’s involvement in the decision making process of SBCP will definitely enrich its resourcefluness as well as acceptability in the NGO community as almost all the reputed NGOs are its members.

Indeed. ADAB can play an important role in ensuring the transparency and accountability of its member NGOs who will be selected to participate in the SBCP project activities.

To ensure transparency and accountability of SBCP. all project documents including loan agreement, project proposal, appraisal and budget should be made public and accessible by the people or agencies who may need such document for review or study.

In the draft inception report, disadvantaged and poverty stricken people have been blamed for destruction of the Sundarbans which is not true. Poor people simply act as tools and they only carry out  orders to earn their daily wages. Corrupt personnel (officials and businessmen) always remain unexposed.

ADAB and CEN together with their members and other important segments of the civil society will form "SBCP watch group'' to monitor impact and the overall management of SBCP. Findings of the proposed watch group will be made public through local, national and international mass media and journals.

Section- 2: Technical aspects

Impact zone of SBCP needs to be expanded. To uphold the commitment of SBCP and for the true realization of outward looking and stakeholder inclusive approach; composition & constituition, roles & responsibilities of SSC, SAC, RUG should be outlined and spelt out in consultation with the people and community at large.

Component B of the draft inception report deals with the most important aspect of the project which will directly influence bio-diversity conservation and sustainable resource management. In the inception report, Sundarban resources are broadly categorized as wood, non-wood, honey, aquatic resources and wild life. Over-extraction of these resources has led to resource degradation which indeed threatens the ecosystem and resource sustainability of Sundarban. ADAB strongly feels that this component needs further review, and community voice and opinion needs to be incorporated, particulary on conservation as well as extraction of resources from Sundarban reserve forest.

Component. C is another significant component which is to provide community education and awareness as well as provide alternative livelihoods for those populations that largely depend on Sundarban resources. ADAB appreciates the concern expressed towards alternative livelihood initiatives to safeguard the Sundarbans from over-extraction.

Indeed, alternative livelihood requires capital and in this regard micro-credit is a proven option in Bangladesh.  But if micro-credit is used in its usual manner, ADAB and its members apprehend its misuse,  which is bound to affect or impact negatively on micro-credit in general and SBCP in particular. The general apprehension is, if micro-credit is not properly designed and used, it may be misused to destroy the eco-system in the Sundarbans by borrowers resorting to invest their borrowed capital to exploit the resources instead of looking for alternatives.

Prior to undertaking any infrastructure development endeavors (like construction of road, bridge, culvert, sluice gate etc.) discussion and consultation with the community, local government and NGOs should be conducted and their participation in decision-making should be encouraged. Considering their past experience and achievement, NGOs may be assigned the responsibility for water supply and sanitation related activities.

Experience of eco-tourism in most of the countries has not been very encouraging. Therefore this particular activity needs further review and consultation with local community and civil society as well as socio-culture of Bangladesh needs to be taken into consideration,

Research areas should be identified. Research fields like alternative-housing materials, cooking fuel, solar energy, and wind energy may be considered as  priority areas.

Section -3 Involvement of NGOs and other aspects:
 

ADAB should be involved in the selection of NGOs to work with SBCP. Considering the past experience with different bilateral and Government projects including KJDRP, ADAB as the apex body of NGOs must stand to safeguard the credibility of NGOs and therefore raise voice on behalf of its members and NGO sector in general. To promote solidarity, accountability and transparency of its members, ADAB is going to enforce its Code of Ethics among them.
All  documents and reports related to SBCP should be translated into Bengali and made  available to NGOs and civil society for the greater transparency of SBCP and community awareness.

Tidal wetland conservation within and outside of SBCP impact zone should have serious consideration to preserve the ecosystem.

ADAB and CEN would like to discuss policy issues directly with the Government and its concerned official or authority. For continuous dialogue, Advocacy and lobbying, ADAB will maintain close liaison with ADB, other donors and stakeholders of SBCP.

The Inception report has not brought in the issue of Mongla seaport located in the impact zone. Oil seepage from different ships and navigation should be controlled and extruded from the seawater for the benefit of aqua resources and protection of environment.

Role of the SBCP Authority:

Without giving any consideration to the Position Paper subnmitted by ADAB/CEN, SBCP advertised in the daily newspapers on January 6, 2001 inviting application from NGOs to submit applications for selection as Implementing NGOs under the Project.  Accordingly, in a meeting held on January 8, 2001, ADAB/CEN passed a Resolution for the formation of a "SBCP Watch Committee".

The SBCP Watch Committee will be formed at several levels, such as Central Level, Chapter level and at Upazila level.

SBCP Watch Committee

Goal of the SBCP Watch Committee :

The Goal of the SBCP Watch Committee is to ensure active participation of the People, especially the Stakeholders, for the sustainable development of the Sunderban Reserve Forest and the Conservation of Bio-diversity in the SRF as well as in its Impact Zone.
Specific Objectives :

? Development of a Clear-cut Policy on Shrimp Cultivation, in order to ensure that this economic activity does not in any way cause damage to the environment and ecology of the Sunderbans or its Impact Zone.
? Ensuring representation of ADAB/CEN , NGOs and Stakeholders' Representatives in the Policy Making and Management levels of the Sunderban Bio-diversity Conservation Project.
? The Sunderban Bio-diversity Conservation Project to innovate and suggest innovative methods for creating Alternative Employment Opportunities for the population dependent on the resources of the Sunderbans, other than Traditional occupations usually followed by micro-credit activities in the other regions of the country.
? PKSF to amend its existing rules and policies for micro-credit in accordance with the specific needs of the region and of the Stakeholders living in the Impact one of the SRF.

Central Level :
At the Central Level, the SBCP Watch Committee will have the following structure :

 Structure :
? Central Level representatives of ADAB and CEN
? Representatives of NGOs active in the Impact Zone of the Sunderbans
? Environmental  Activists.
? Media Personalities
? Representatives of interested National and International Organizations.
? Academics and other interested professionals.

Activities :
The Activities of the  Committee will include :
? Collection of Information regarding the activities of the SBCP through the Chapter and Upazila Level Committees
? Collection of Information regarding illegal activities in the Sunderban and its Impact Zone which may be detrimental to the bio-diversity of the region.
? Creation of awareness among the people about the need to conserve the Sunderban and its Bio-diversity by means of workshops, seminars, discussions and media campaigns.
? Maintenance of Liaison with National and International agencies interested in the Sundarbans and conservation of its Bio-diversity, and in Environment in general.
? Maintaining liaison with the relevant government agencies and donors.
 

SBCP Watch Committees will also be formed at Chapter Level.

Chapter Level Committees :

Two Chapter Level Committees will be formed at Khulna and Barisal.

Structure :
The Chapter  level Committees will be formed with :
 Chapter Representatives
 NGOs active in the Impact Zone
 Representatives of Lawyers, Journalists and other Professionals
 Academicians
 Environmental Activists.

The Goals and Objectives of the Chapter Level Committees will be the same as the Central Committee.
Activities :
Towards achieving the goals and objectives, the SBCP Watch Committees at the Chapter level will undertake the following activities :
 Collection of Information in respect of the activities of the Sunderban Bio-diversity Conservation Project
 Collection of Peoples' Reaction and Opinions in respect of the on-going activities of the SBCP
 Motivation of Stakeholders in the Impact Zone in respect of the Impacts of  SBCP activities.
 Awareness Creation among the Citizens by means of
::: Meetings
 Seminars
 Workshops
 Local Media Campaigns.

SBCP Watch Committees at Upazila Level

SBCP Watch Committees will also be formed at Upazila Level. The Upazila Level Committees will closely liase between the Chapter Level Committees and the people at Grassroots level and assist the  Chapter Level Committees in all their activities. Their goals and objectives will be the same as those of the upper tiers, and they will also have a similar composition and structure, and their activities will include  among others :

 Awareness Creation at Grassroots level by means of meetings, seminars, workshops and discussions;
 Collection of information in respect of the activities of the SBCP in their areas;
 Collection of information about activities detrimental to conservation of bio-diversity and other illegal activities in their respective areas;
 Media campaign through Upazila level journalists.
 

 

IMPACTS OF WATER-LOGGING AND SHRIMP CULTURE

ON THE SUNDARBANS

 

                                                                                                          *Anwar Firoze

INTRODUCTION :

 

Area Description : The Southwest Coastal Region :

 

Though Bangladesh is a small country in area, it can still be divided into several distinct regions on the basis of natural characteristics. Such a region is the Southwest Coastal Region comprising the districts of Bagerhat, Khulna and Satkhira, the southern portion of Jessore district and the Sundarban Reserved Forest.

The Sundarban Reserved forest is the largest mangrove ecosystem that exists in the world today. It has a total area of about 10,000 square kilometers, out of which 6017 square kilometers, or about 60% lie in Bangladesh, while the rest of its area is in the adjacent state of West Bengal in India.

In former times, the forest extended over a much larger area, but during the 18th and early 19th centuries, the then government of the British East India Company leased out large areas of forest land to large investors for practicing agriculture after clearing the forest, in order to increase the Company's revenue. However, in the second half of the 19th century, such leasing out was stopped and the area declared as a Reserved forest. Since then, the area of the forest has remained constant.

The Sundarban Reserved Forest is on the coast, between the Bay of Bengal and the inhabited areas to the north, thus protecting the inhabitants of those areas from the cyclones and storm surges that arise from the Bay.

The special characteristic of the region is that  its environment and ecology are governed by the diurnal tides that surge inland through the numerous estuaries of the Ganges that pass through the Sundarban forest. The forest deposits an estimated 3.5 million tons of detritus in a year. Falling into the water, the detritus is carried to the farthest corners by the tides, and decomposing in the water, it forms nutritious organic food for all kinds of aquatic animals. This abundance of food, as well as the protected nature of the inland waters, attract large numbers of aquatic life in all varieties. Hence the inland waters of this region, including the creeks and estuaries of the Sundarbans,  continue to be considered as one of the best natural feeding and breeding grounds for aquatic animals. In fact, some of the most economically important species spend an important portion of their lives in these waters.

The decomposed organic matter, when deposited on land along with the tide-borne silt, also fertilizes and renews the land. The silt helps to maintain the level of the land, which is subject to subsidence like all other loose delta soils worldwide.

 

Pre-1960 Economic Pattern:

 

As events outside the Sundarbans have important impacts on the Sundarbans, it is necessary to examine the events and their effects.

Since time immemorial, the fertility of the land and the abundance of fish and other aquatic animals in the inland waters had attracted settlers from other parts of the South Asian sub-continent. Through centuries of adaptation, they had also evolved a lifestyle and agricultural pattern that was in tune with the natural characteristics of the region.

The region consists mainly of low lying land, inundated twice daily by the tides. Human habitations, orchards and homestead gardens were established on land raised artificially by digging ponds and ditches. During the monsoon rains, when the rain water has washed off the surface salinity, the farmers used to build temporary earthen dikes around the low lands to prevent the incursion of saline tidal water and temporary wooden sluices to drain off surplus rain water, and cultivate indigenous varieties of salinity tolerant and flood tolerant rice.  After the harvest, they dismantled the dikes and sluices, giving free play to the tides. During the dry months of the year, the people, especially the poor, fished in the inundated fields for food as well as for supplementary income. Thus, with an abundance of rice and fish, there was no hunger in the region.

 

 

 

Natural Calamities during the past Centuries :

 

Till the 16th century, the Ganges discharged its waters into the Bay of Bengal through eight distributing rivers such as the Bhagirati-Hooghly, the Jalangi, Ichamati, Mathabhanga etc. But in the 16th century, the Ganges cut a new channel eastwards and much of its waters began to flow eastwards through the new distributing rivers Gorai and Arial Khan.  Later still, the Ganges moved further eastwards and joined the Meghna estuary

Over and above these natural changes, human intervention in the 18th century further reduced the supply of fresh water from the Ganges to the region. The then government of the British East India Company received complaints about the heavy currents in the river Mathabhanga near its intake mouth from the Ganges. Engineers sent to solve the problem arranged to sink a number of earth laden boats just downstream of the intake mouth. As a result, the current was reduced, but within a short time, the Mathbhanga completely lost its connection with the Ganges. Within another few years, the Jalangi also lost its connection with the Ganges. As the Jalangi joins with a branch of the Mathabhanga to form the Bhairab river, the Bhairab also lost its source of supply of Ganges water and was reduced to a mere drainage channel for surplus rain water.

 

Human Intervention in the 1960's  

 

Faced with the need to grow more foodgrains for the burgeoning population, the then government of East Pakistan implemented the Coastal Embankment Project (CEP) during the 1960's in order to convert the low lying, single crop, brackish, tidal flood-plains into fresh water areas where year round agriculture would be possible.  Under the project, 1566 km of high embankments and 282 sluices were constructed to contain the entire low land in 37 polders in the Khulna-Jessore region alone.

Initially the project appeared to be highly successful. As the period coincided with the introduction of High Yielding Varieties of rice, the farmers were able to collect bumper harvests of rice twice and even three times a year. But Nature's reaction to human intervention was accumulating,  and finally it began to appear in the early years of the 1980's.

The tides which used to flood the low lands being now denied entry into the polders, now deposited silt on the river beds, raising the level of the river beds higher than the level of the land within the polders. The silt was also deposited at the exit points of the sluices. This resulted in drainage congestion and water-logging within the polders, at first temporarily during the rainy season, but later taking on a permanent character. At present, over 150,000 hectares of agricultural land in the Khulna-Jessore region remain water-logged.

 

Negative Impacts of Water-logging :

 

Water-logging of the once productive rice fields made agriculture impossible. At first the people thought it was a temporary phenomenon, and sought help from the government to drain off the water from their fields. The big land-owners, who had sufficient savings to invest in other enterprises, went to live in the urban areas, where they engaged themselves in business. But the majority of the people, comprising small and marginal farmers, share-croppers, land-less agricultural workers, petty traders in agricultural produce, boatmen and other transportation workers, and thousands of those who rendered other services to the population, were faced with massive unemployment.

Water-logging killed off the trees, flooded homestead gardens and school grounds, and even rural roads. Domestic and other wastes, including human wastes, had to be disposed of in the stagnant water, resulting in the increase in water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid and various types of skin diseases. Many males migrated to urban centers in search of jobs, leaving female-headed destitute families behind. The helplessness of these families made them vulnerable to harassment, repression, ill-treatment and rape, as well as trafficking of women and children.

As cereals and vegetables could not be grown, the cattle could not be fed and had to be sold off. Without sufficient food, vegetables and fruits which were once available in abundance, there was widespread mal-nourishment in the region. The dying off of trees led to shortage of firewood and building material, and the dependence of the people on the Sundarbans increased manifold.

 

 

SHRIMP CULTIVATION :

 

 

The water-logging which first appeared in the early part of the 1980's, spread to 106,000 hectares (about 260,00 acres) by 1990 and now extends to over 150,000 hectares.

At first the people were unable to think of any means to combat water-logging. They were only thinking of draining off the water. Then some of them began to make use of the water-logging. They started fishing in the flooded fields. Gradually, some people built earthen dikes around their fields and reared fish in the enclosed fields, known locally as "ghers".

At about the same time, the world demand for frozen and processed shrimps began to increase, and many of the fish farmers began to cultivate shrimps in their fish enclosures. As the water-logging had first appeared in the upstream, that is, northern parts of this southwest region, they began cultivating fresh water prawns known locally as GOLDA.

A few attempts were made by ambitious outside entrepreneurs to establish large prawn farms in the water-logged areas, with land to be leased from the big land-owners who were too proud to stoop to perform manual labour by establishing prawn farms themselves. But the poorer sections of the people obstructed them, resulting in violence and bloodshed, after which no similar attempt was made.

These water-logged fresh water areas later became highly prosperous and one village in Bagerhat district came to be known as "The Kuwait of Bangladesh". But the pollution caused by mono-culture still persists in spite of the efforts of the inhabitants to maintain a clean environment and they still have to depend on the Sundarbans for fuel wood and timber.

Brackish Water Shrimp Cultivation :

 

Though the cultivation of shrimps was initiated and practiced by the small land-holders in the fresh water regions, the case was different in the southern, brackish water areas. Here the landed gentry were already living in urban centers and following different occupations. They used to lease out the land against cash or on a share-cropping basis. When the shrimp entrepreneurs approached them to lease their lands, they were only too glad to accept the proposals, as it meant dealing with a fewer number of lessees. In this manner, large scale shrimp cultivation began and spread in the southern brackish water areas of the region. But the process had and still has many negative aspects.

The leasing of land was not a legitimate process. First of all, the government has not as yet formulated any kind of policy for shrimp cultivation. The department of Agriculture has never tried to formulate a land-use policy, especially in respect of shrimps. The matter is left in the hands of local, district-level bureaucrats, who are more often than not, easily corrupted by the shrimp entrepreneurs. The only criterion so far in practice is that if two-thirds of the land in a beel (a low-lying piece of land surrounded by higher lands) is leased out for shrimp farming, the owners of the remaining one-third are bound to lease out their lands to the same entrepreneur.

But many of these corrupt, greedy investors do not usually take those lands on lease. They simply enclose the entire "beel" with low earthen dikes and flood the enclosure with brackish water, making it impossible for the farmers to cultivate rice. Thus they cheat the land owners.

 

Environmental and Social Impacts of Brackish water Shrimp Culture :

 

Before the embankments were built, the saline tidal water used to flood the low lying lands. But the tide water remained on the land for only a short period of a few hours. But the shrimp enclosures were filled with saline water which is kept stagnant for months.  This resulted in brackish water seeping into the ground below as well as on the surrounding higher lands. In this manner, the ground water has also become saline, and all the vegetation, including trees, shrubs and grasses, have been killed off. The cattle have now no work to do, and no fodder. So all the cattle have been sold off to buy rice for feeding the families. The inability to grow vegetables and the death of trees have deprived the poor population of essential home-grown nutrition. The disappearance of cattle and poultry due to lack of fodder has also deprived them of milk, meat and eggs. The entire population has now become mal-nourished. Women now have to walk long distances, sometimes as far as three kilometers, to bring potable water for drinking and cooking.

As shrimp cultivation offers fewer jobs than agriculture, thousands of unemployed males have left for urban areas in search of work, or resorted to extraction of the resources of the Sundarbans, while the destitute female headed families have resorted to collection of fry (post-larvae) of the brackish water "BAGDA" shrimps to be supplied to the shrimp farmers through middlemen. But the collection process kills off dozens of fry of other species of shrimp and fish for each surviving Bagda fry caught. This has resulted in drastic shortage of fish in the inland water as well as coastal seas of the region and also caused massive damage to aquatic bio-diversity. Many species of fish and shrimps are in danger of becoming locally extinct.

The female headed families living in areas far from the rivers find no other work to do than the menial jobs of repairing the dikes of shrimp farms or removing weeds from the water. These low paid menial jobs are not sufficient to feed their families. As a result, they are also sexually harassed by their employers and male workers.

 

Negative Impacts on the Sundarbans.

 

1)      The implementation of the Coastal Embankment Project and its ultimate failure due to

water-logging constrained thousands of jobless males to choose extraction of forest produce as an alternative means of livelihood. This has resulted in depletion of the already depleting resources of the Sundarbans.

2)      The farmers who lease out their lands to shrimp cultivators, are usually permitted to cultivate rice on the lands after the harvest of shrimp at the beginning of the rainy season. But as there is not enough fodder for their cattle, these cattle are kept in the care of families living outside the shrimp areas. As rice straw is their main fodder during the rainy season, the farmers have to depend on the Nipa palm fronds, known locally as "Golpata" for thatching their roofs, in place of rice straw.

3)      As all the trees in the water-logged and shrimp cultivated areas have been killed off, the people have to depend on fuel wood and timber extracted from the Sundarbans, enhancing the rate of degradation of the forest.

4)      The method of collection of shrimp fry (post-larvae) from the rivers in and around the Sundarbans is crude and inefficient. The women and children who are engaged in this occupation catch the fry in thin-mesh nets and after collecting the variety of fry they want, the rest is thrown on the river bank. Thus dozens of fry of other species of fish and shrimp are killed for each surviving shrimp fry caught, depleting the aquatic resources of the waters as well as causing massive damage to aquatic bio-diversity in the creeks and estuaries in the Sundarbans as well as in its impact area.

5)      The large numbers of unemployed males who have lost their occupations due to water-logging and brackish water shrimp cultivation have resorted to extraction of forest produce as an alternative source of employment, resulting in faster denuding of the forest.

6)      Increasing population in the country needs increasing quantities of  fuel wood for cooking and timber for other household uses. This means increased dependence on the already depleting Sundarbans. Though the ideal is 25% of land area under forests, the forest coverage in Bangladesh is a mere 9%, and that too is depleting fast. If extraction from the Sundarban forest continues at this rate, the forest may be totally denuded within a few years.

7)      The Coastal Embankment Project of the 1960's was followed by the construction of the Farakka barrage on the Ganges by India. Since the barrage was commissioned in 1975, the quantity of water flowing into Bangladesh along the Ganges river has been drastically reduced, resulting in the silting up of the intake mouth of the Gorai river, which prevents Ganges water from entering the Gorai during the dry months of the year, from December to May. As the mangrove ecosystem of the Sundarban forest flourishes in a delicate balance of fresh and saline water, the increase in salinity due to the lack of fresh water flows from upstream has caused damage to the Sundarbans. The widespread top-dying of Sundari trees and many other varieties of mangroves, is attributed to excessive salinity.

8)      The honey and beeswax collectors, locally known as "Mowalis" destroy the hives while collecting honey from the Sundarbans. This results in swarms of bees migrating to other areas, including the neighbouring Indian portion of the Sundarban forest.

9)      Finally, the nexus of greedy investors and corrupt forest officials encourage illegal extraction of forest produce, including those species of which extraction is totally banned, resulting in further depletion of the forest resources.

 

ACTIVITIES TO SAVE THE SUNDARBANS

 

1)      The Sundarban Bio-diversity Conservation Project (SBCP):

In the face of the rapid deterioration of the Sundarban mangrove forest as a result of over-extraction due to the many causes described above, the Government has formulated a  US$77 million project named the Sundarban Bio-diversity Conservation Project (SBCP), funded by a loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and grants from the Global Environment Fund (GEF) and the government of The Netherlands, as well as some contribution by the Government of Bangladesh.

The Project aims to enhance the capability of the Forest Department to manage the forest and also assist in finding alternative employment opportunities to the excessive number of people dependent on the meagre resources of the forest residing in the areas adjacent to the Sundarbans, named the "Impact Zone" of the Sundarbans. For this purpose, the SBCP is appointing NGOs to provide skill development training in different alternative occupations and micro-credit.

2)      NGOs and the SBCP :

The Coastal Development Partnership (CDP), Uttaran and other NGOs under the umbrella of their Apex body ADAB have had several meetings with the project authorities, including the representatives of ADB in respect of implementation of the project. CDP and other NGOs insist that unless the conditions that are causing damage to the forest are changed, the SBCP will not be able to achieve its objective. They cite shrimp farming as the principal cause for deterioration of the forest, both in quantitative terms due to over-extraction as well as in qualitative terms due to shrimp-related pollution.

CDP and other NGOs also want to stop river pollution by the industries in the Khulna-Jessore industrial belt as well as by ships arriving at the Mongla port, which is adjacent to the forest.

3)      The role of the Coastal Development Partnership (CDP) :

CDP has all along been conducting  advocacy for the Conservation of the Sundarbans since its very inception, and had allied itself with other NGOs under the ADAB to advocate for creating an enabling environment for the implementation of the SBCP. As a part of this venture, CDP has formed a Citizens' Committee for Conserving the Bio-diversity in the Sundarbans. The Committee includes NGOs, CBOs, Journalists, leaders of professional associations and Civil Society leaders, and they have been meeting regularly and discussing the progress of advocacy activities and the implementation of SBCP.

CDP also publishes a regular bimonthly bulletin titled "Upakul Barta" in which the issues that plague the Sundarbans and its Impact Zone are highlighted.

CDP also maintains contact with international environmental activist organizations such as the IIED in London and the Mangrove Action Project (MAP) at Port Angeles, WA, USA. An article titled the "Sundarbans in Bangladesh" written by a CDP researcher has also been published in the web site of the Mangrove Action Project.

 

It is, therefore , hoped that these activities of the Government and NGOs as well as Advocacy by concerned citizens will help proper implementation of the Sundarban Bio-diversity Conservation Project (SBCP) and achieve the project's declared objectives of protecting and preserving the forest .

 

 

 

 

 

THE SUNDARBAN MANGROVE FORESTS  IN BANGLADESH

 

         Anwar Firoze

 

INTRODUCTION:

The Sundarban Forest is the largest continuous mangrove ecosystem that exists in the world today. It is approximately 10,000 square kilometers in extent, out of which 6017 square kilometers or roughly 60% is situated in Bangladesh, while the rest lies in the state of West Bengal in India. Located at the mouth of the wide Ganges system delta between 80 and 85 degrees East Longitude and 21-30' and 23 degrees North Latitude, the forest thrives in a delicate balance of fresh water brought by the Ganges and its distributing branches and the saline sea water brought in by the diurnal tides that pass through the  maze of creeks and estuaries that criss-cross the forest, and cover nearly a quarter of its area. The forest as well as the tides determine the environment and ecology of the adjacent upstream areas to a great extent.

 

Protective and Nurturing Role of the Forest :

The forest that covers a large portion of the coastline of the Ganges delta acts as a buffer against erosion of the coast by sea waves, as well as against the cyclone-generated tidal surges which can and do cause massive destruction to life and property. The benefits provided by the forest in its protective role is incalculable.

 

Secondly, the forest produces about 3.5 million tons of detritus which, falling in the water, is carried to the farthest reaches of the tidal prism, and decomposing in the water, produces nutritious organic food for all species of aquatic animals. This decomposed organic matter when deposited along with silt on the low lying tidal flood plains immediately upstream of the Sundarbans, enriches the soil and restores its fertility.

 

As a result, the inland waters in and around the Sundarban is a favorite feeding ground for all species of aquatic animals, as well as a protected breeding ground for many varieties of fish and shrimp. Many economically important species of fish and shrimps spend an important part of their lives in these inland waters.

 

Bio-diversity in the Sundarban Forest :

The Sundarban forest is rich in its variety of mangrove species, of which there are said to be nearly 300 varieties. The most important is the Sundari (Heretiera Fomes), after which the forest is named. Heavier than teak, its timber is highly durable when in contact with water, and is therefore used in building boats and for jetty piling. The Pussur (Xylocarpus mekongensis) is a valuable timber as it is mostly used for making high quality furniture. Other timber varieties are Keora (Sonneratia apetala), Gewa (Excoecaria agallocha), Kakra (Bruguiera gynmorrhiza), Dhundul (Xylocarpus granatum) Bain, (Avicennis  officinalis) Amoor (Amoora cuculata), Ora (Sonneratia caseolaris), Moricha Bain (Avicenna marina), Sada Bain (Avicenna alba), Hatal (Phonix Paludosa)

 

Jana/Garjan (Rhizophora micronata) Bhatkati (Rapiculata), etc. The two varieties of  Goran (Ceriops decandra and Ceriops tagal) are excellent fuel woods, and due to its high tensile strength, are also ideal for posts and rafters. There are many varieties of brackish water tolerant reeds and grasses which are also economically valuable. The fronds of the Nypa( Frutcans palm), locally known as "Golpata" are used for thatching, as it is much more durable than cocoanut fronds. A variety of marsh grass named Ciperus Tagetiformis (Roxy), known locally as "Meley" is valuable for its flower stalks which are used in making mats, which are essential household articles in almost every household in the country. Because of local extinction of this grass in the inhabited regions adjacent to the Sundarbans, the resources of this grass in the forest is under excessive pressure. 

 


*Anwar Firoze is an active Environmental and Development activist, at present lending his services  as Documentation Officer to the Coastal Development Partnership (CDP), 64, Islampur Road, Khulna-9100, Bangladesh. Phone : 0088-041-725772. E-mail : <tutucdp@hotmail.com>

 

There are 42 species of mammals, 53 species of reptiles, 8 species of amphibians and nearly 315 species of birds in the Sundarbans. Among the aquatic animals, there are 24 species of shrimps, 124 species of brackish/saline water fish and 53 species of fresh water fish in the waters in  and around the forest

 

Human Intervention and Degradation of the Forest :

The Sundarban formerly extended over a much larger area than at present.

At about the close of the 18th century, when the British East India Company had begun to enjoy the Revenue collecting rights for Bengal, Bihar and Orissa granted by the Mughal Emperor at Delhi, they began to think about increasing revenue collection.  They started leasing out large tracts of forest land to local entrepreneurs to clear the forest for Agriculture. Later on  in mid-19th century, clearing of forest was stopped and the Sundarban was declared a Reserved forest. Since then, there had been systematic governance of the forest as long as the Britissh remained.

 

But after the British left in 1947, there has been continuous mismanagement, resulting in massive over-exploitation of the resources of the forest. A nexus of greedy entrepreneurs

and corrupt forest officials have devastated the forest resources to such an extent that a total ban had to be applied on extraction of different species of timber, such as Sundari and Pussur. But the forest officials and moneyed lessees are not the only ones to blame. The unscientific and inefficient methods of extraction are also responsible for much of the degradation. For example, honey and beeswax collectors destroy the hives and kill a large number of bees while collecting honey and wax. Those who collect shrimp fry from the rivers destroy more than a score fry of other species for each surviving shrimp fry collected. They scoop up the fry from the water in their fine-mesh nets, and picking up the fry of their choice, throw the rest on to the bank. In this manner, a large number of fry of other varieties of fish and shrimp are destroyed, negatively affecting both aquatic bio-diversity as well as fish stocks in the region's waters.

 

Distant Interventions Affecting the Sundarbans :

Apart from the direct human intervention in the forest, events far away from the forest have also affected the forest in a negative manner. It has already been stated that the forest thrives in a delicate balance of fresh and saline water. But this balance has been affected and the hydrological situation altered by human interventions carried out upstream from the Sundarban forest since the 1960's. Though these interventions have taken place at a distance, they have had far reaching effects of a negative kind on the forest.

 

The Coastal Embankment Project :

The first of these interventions was in the shape of the Coastal Embankment Project, implemented in the 1960's and early 1970's. Under this project, the entire tidal flood plains of the coastal areas were enclosed within high embankments and numerous permanent sluices built, respectively to prevent the intrusion of saline water and to drain out the surplus rain water from within the polders. The project was intended for increasing the production of rice, by converting the single crop lands in the tidal flood plains into multi-crop farm lands. Initially, the project yielded excellent results, as the farmers were able to produce multiple crops of rice, especially as the period coincided with the advent of high yielding varieties (HYV) of rice. But Nature's reaction was building up during the decade and a half of comparative prosperity.

 

Denied entry into the flood plains, the tides surged farther inland, carrying salinity to new areas. The heavy loads of silt carried by the tides were deposited on the river beds, and they began to rise until they were higher than the level of the land inside the polders. The silt was also deposited at an increasing rate on the floor of the forest in the Sundarbans. A person standing inside a polder and looking across the river towards the forest will be able to see that the forest floor is higher than the land on which he/she is standing.

 

Brackish Water Shrimp Cultivation :

The second human intervention commenced in the 1980's. Cultivation of brackish water shrimps expanded speedily in the impact zone of the Sundarbans during the 1980's. This had a deadly effect on water and soil quality in the entire region. The tides came and went twice a day. They did not stay at a place permanently. On the other hand, the shrimp farmers let in brackish water into the shrimp enclosures, and this brackish water remained there for months. As a result, it seeped into the soil underneath as well as on all sides. Thus both the underground water as well as the entire soil of the region became saline. The soil salinity killed off all vegetation - trees, bushes and even grasses.

 

Shrimp cultivation had already put a lid on agriculture. The death of vegetation compelled the farmers to sell off their cattle. The womenfolk could not keep any poultry, nor produce homestead vegetables. The children were deprived of eggs, meat, milk, vegetables and fruits. Already rendered jobless and poorer by the stoppage of agricultural activities, the people began to suffer from malnutrition. Jobless people turned to extraction of Sundarban forest resources as an alternative means of livelihood. Straw for thatching was replaced by Nypa palm fronds from the forest. Homestead firewood was replaced by firewood from the forest. Homestead trees used to supply the necessary timber for house building, at least to a great extent. But the death of all vegetation compelled the people to seek alternative supplies from the Sundarbans. Thus extraction of resources from the Sundarbans exceeded the annual regeneration and reached an unsustainable level.

 

Commercial shrimp cultivation has given birth to an ancillary industry - that of collecting naturally occurring shrimp fry from the rivers and creeks in and around the Sundarbans. According to figures mentioned in a Roundtable held at Khulna on August 20, 2001, 470 million fry or post-larvae of shrimp were caught in the Sundarbans and adjoining regions during the year 2000. But the unscientific method of shrimp fry collection kills off no less than a score of fry of other species for every shrimp fry caught. Thus it appears that billions of fish and shrimp fry have been killed off, drastically reducing the supply of fish in the region as well as causing massive damage to the aquatic bio-diversity of the Sundarbans. 

 

The Sundarban Bio-diversity Conservation Project :

Alarmed by such an unrelenting pressure on the forest, the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the Government of Bangladesh finally decided to implement a project named Sundarban Bio-diversity Conservation Project. To be funded by a loan from the Asian Development Bank and grants from the GEF and The Royal Netherlands government as well as a sizeable contribution by the Government of Bangladesh, this US $ 77 million project seeks to enhance the management efficiency of the forest department. The project has also a component to address the needs of the people depending solely on the forest for their livelihoods and who live in areas adjacent to the forest, and enable them to engage themselves in alternative means of livelihood.

 

But the manner in which the project is being implemented is being questioned. NGOs have tried to establish a dialogue between the project authorities and themselves. Several meetings have also been held at Dhaka and Khulna towards that end. But the project authorities have gone ahead with implementing the project without paying any heed to the constructive suggestions made by the NGOs, especially in respect of participation of the people at all stages of implementation and other points including the regulation of shrimp cultivation in the region which has indirectly affected the forest in many ways, and the manner in which micro-credit will be used for providing alternative sources of income for the soon-to-be-displaced forest resource extractors.

 

It is however, hoped that the authorities concerned will realize the need to take the people into confidence and earn the trust of the people, thus motivating them to give momentum to the project activities by supporting them with People Power, as no project can achieve its objectives without the active cooperation of the people.

 

Activities of the Coastal Development Partnership (CDP) :

From its very inception, Coastal Development Partnership (CDP) has been actively advocating for the conservation of Environment in the Coastal region, which also includes the Sundarbans. CDP was present at the presentation of the Inception Report of the Sundarban Bio-diversity Conservation Project of the Government of Bangladesh, and had submitted its suggestions for necessary consideration by the project authorities.

When it came to know about the seizure of 12 tiger skins from a village in the vicinity of the Sundarbans, CDP immediately arranged to spread the news worldwide, asking all to write letters of protest to the concerned authorities for their negligence in protecting the wildlife of the Sundarbans.

CDP is still engaged in Advocacy for the protection and preservation of the mangrove ecosystem in the Sundarbans, and are trying to persuade the authorities to take necessary action for dealing with factors that continue to impact negatively on the Sundarbans.

The Sundarban forest was made the subject of discussion in two seminars organized by CDP in connection with the World Environment Day - 2001 observed in Khulna. One was about the ineffectiveness and lack of opportunity for peoples' participation in the Sundarban Bio-diversity Conservation Project of the Government, and the other was about the possible impacts of Oil-Gas Exploration in Block 5, which includes the Sundarbans and its impact zone.

 

 

 

CONCLUSION :

Every issue has two aspects, positive and negative. The present situation in respect of the Sundarban Reserved Forest may appear to present a negative aspect. But there are reasons for concerned people to maintain their faith. For one thing, more and more people are expressing their concerns in respect of the Sundarbans than ever before. Even the authorities concerned who are usually the most lethargic in respect of corrective measures, have taken steps to implement a seven year project which may result in the regeneration of the forest. The project will have a definite impact, not only in the matter of conservation of bio-diversity as its name suggests, but also the perspective of the people in respect of the forest Secondly, the project also attempts to change the perspective of the Forest Department personnel. So far they had considered themselves as "masters". But the project is likely to make them realize that they are answerable to the very people whom they had considered as mere "beneficiaries".  It is this transformation that will be of more benefit to the forest in the long run than any other tangible addition to its resources. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Contact Address
Citizens' Forum for Conserving Monitoring  the Bio-diversity  of the Sunderban  Reserve Forest Ashraf-ul-Alam Tutu,
Member_Secretary,
Upakulio Unnayan Shahjogy,
64, Islampur Road, Khulna, Bangladesh.
Phone : 88-041-725772.
E-mail: tutucdp@hotmail.com