Nature or ecosystem is the giver of most of the essential elements of our life and arrangement. Ecology provides us with both visible and invisible benefits. These include living water, food, spices, clothing materials, shelters, medicines, etc. visible. And the invisible benefits include life-sustaining oxygen, the livelihood of billions of people, the production of renewable energy (solar and hydropower), and so on.
In addition, the ecosystem controls climate and disease and plays an important role in making various elements of the environment recyclable (such as water and oxygen). Ecology protects us from extreme natural disasters, cyclones, and strong winds. It has been very clear from Amman and Yas that the Sundarbans and other coastal mangrove forests play an important role in saving the lives of millions of people living in the coastal areas. Forests play an important role in ecology by mitigating climate change through carbon storage. About 80 percent of the world’s carbon is stored in forests.
Unfortunately, at the national level, we underestimate the importance of conserving and restoring ecology. About 10 million hectares of forest are lost in the world each year, about twice the size of Korea or Costa Rica (FAO and UNEP, 2020). The rate of deforestation in Bangladesh is almost double that of the world. The annual deforestation rate in this country in 1990-2015 was 0.2 percent (FAO, 2015). In 2010, Bangladesh had 2.22 million hectares of tree cover, about 17 percent of the total land area. In 2020, our tree cover decreased by about 21.5 thousand hectares, equivalent to 11.6 metric tons of carbon emissions. Our forests, coral islands, wetlands, etc., are gradually being destroyed due to various manufactured reasons. Our rivers and seas are getting polluted; natural forests and wetlands are being converted into agricultural lands. We are constantly transforming the natural ecosystem to establish new industries and expand the city. Excessive extraction of natural resources, consumerist behavior, excessive greed, and the existing linear economic development model can lead to unstable economic growth.
The theme of this year’s World Environment Day is ‘Restoring Ecology.’ The premise is very appropriate for Bangladesh, as our natural ecosystems are rapidly declining due to unplanned industrialization and urbanization. The gradual shrinkage of the Shalban is a blazing example of how unplanned industrialization and urbanization can bring a natural forest to the brink of extinction. The United Nations has declared 2021-2010 as the ‘Decade of Ecological Recovery.’ They have been conducting a mission this decade to preserve valuable and much-needed natural capital. The objective is to conserve and restore billions of hectares of forest and sea.
The Corona epidemic also indicates that human health is closely linked to ecological health. According to researchers, the incidence of infectious diseases has more than tripled since the 1980s. More than two-thirds of the diseases are zoonotic. It is also known that 80 percent of all infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic. There has been a dramatic increase in zoonotic diseases, including Covid 19, Ebola, SARS, swine, and avian flu, for various reasons, including the destruction and loss of natural habitat and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and poaching.
In an emerging economy like Bangladesh, where industrialization and urbanization are constantly rising, where the population density is much higher, conserving the ecosystem and biodiversity is a daunting task. Nevertheless, despite various limitations and challenges, the Government of Bangladesh has taken commendable initiatives in conserving natural resources and ecosystems. Bangladesh is unique in the world in creating coastal mangrove forests. The Forest Department has created more than 200,000 hectares of coastal mangrove forests since 1975. The government has designated 52 protected areas and 13 ecologically endangered areas for regular management and restoration of eroded ecosystems. The Department of Forests and Environment has already formed several village conservation teams to decentralize the management of these areas. With the declaration of six sanctuaries and the ban on catching hilsa during the breeding season, the production of hilsa has increased significantly.
Article 16A on the protection of environment and biodiversity in the Constitution of Bangladesh states, “The State shall preserve and develop the environment for present and future citizens and shall provide for the protection and security of natural resources, biodiversity, wetlands, forests and wildlife.” Since the formulation of the revised National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan in 2016, several laws, rules, and policies have been formulated, including Environmental Critical Area Management Rules (2016), Bangladesh Biodiversity Act (2017), Protected Areas Management Rules (2016), National Environmental Policy (2016), Forest Policy (Draft 2017), etc. are notable. We hope that all these policies and regulations will create a conducive environment for conserving the ecosystem on a sustainable basis.
We commit to national conservation goals. Therefore, it is necessary to start implementing the plan for the restoration of degraded ecosystems, especially forests and wetlands, by 2021. Bangladesh, which is working towards becoming a middle-income country by 2031 and a developed country by 2041, has no choice but to balance environmental protection and development while undertaking any development activities. Because no one would call a developed country a developed country that has lost its forests, its mountains have become barren, and its water and air have become polluted. Policies, rules, and sectoral action plans in this regard need to be incorporated into the mainstream of development activities.
By implementing the Eighth-Five Year Plan, we can play a leading role in the implementation of the ‘Decade for Ecological Recovery’ declared by the United Nations. To maintain this momentum in the celebration of World Environment Day, we can consider the following steps to restore ecosystems and conserve biodiversity:
All development plans, including the Eighth Five-Year Plan and the Local Development Plan, must go a long way in incorporating ecosystem restoration and biodiversity conservation into the programming, revenue reform, public finance management, and budgeting process. By 2040 or 2050, we can set a national target to reduce the rate of ecological conservation and biodiversity degradation to zero.
According to the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change plan, Bangladesh needs US 2.4 billion for sustainable management of natural resources. Of that, the funding deficit is ৮ 1.8 billion. In addition to bridging the gap in the existing financial system, a combination of public, private, and international funding can play a role in implementing these plans.
Experience has shown that there has been little success in conserving nature in Bangladesh with conventional orders and regulatory legislation. Therefore, market-based methods such as a tax on pollutants or a green tax can be introduced in developed countries. In addition, incentives and incentives can be provided to prevent erosion of ecosystems, deforestation, and biodiversity.
The involvement of the private sector in the management or restoration of ecosystems in Bangladesh is still at the child level. The main reasons are lack of awareness and limited private sector capacity, Insufficient government support, and incentives. The government can create funds for conserving and restoring the ecosystem by adopting the ‘market-based approach’ discussed above. Revenue earned from eco-tourism can be used to conserve nature. Corporate sectors can also come forward with nature and environmentally friendly and environmentally responsible businesses. The model of public-private partnership in nature conservation and ecosystem restoration can also be explored. As the country moves from a middle-income country to a developed country, foreign aid and grants are shrinking. In this situation, the private sector can be a good source of nature conservation. Our youth are a significant part of the total population. The youth should be involved in nature conservation in various ways.
Finally, the world community can forge a strong partnership to build a global fund to restore ecosystems and conserve biodiversity. Conservation of biodiversity requires a political commitment from the Government of Bangladesh so that policymakers can make strategic changes aimed at nature-friendly solutions. At the same time, the people can take the necessary responsible steps to develop green and sustainable economic development without destroying their own nature.
Arif Md. Faisal is working for the United Nations Development Program.
This is the author’s own opinion. The opinion of the working organization is not reflected here.