May 25, 2024, 7:41 pm

Fire in the Sundarbans: What we must do to protect our protector

  • Update Time : Wednesday, May 8, 2024
  • 11 Time View
Photo: Collected

People in Bangladesh, and even the rest of the world, view the Sundarbans with a certain reverence. But, unfortunately, policymakers and those who are responsible for taking care of the mangrove forest do not view it the same way.
For Bangladesh, the Sundarbans is its protector. It protects our land from various natural disasters. Particularly, cyclones coming from the southwest are impeded by the Sundarbans. However, although the forest protects us, we do nothing to protect it. Whether it is through deforestation, or polluting the waters around it, or building industrial plants around it—we have continued to take on activities that severely harm this natural body.
Now, speaking of the fire that we learnt of on Saturday, this is not something that has happened for the first time. This sort of incidents have been common during this time of the year for quite some time. So this fire should not be viewed as an accident that could not have been prevented. Firstly, as this is something that keeps happening every year, we need to figure out the underlying reasons that cause it. And the process through which this investigation is to be conducted should be made transparent and inclusive. Furthermore, it should be communicated to the local people. Without transparency and decisive action, this would become yet another administrative exercise in our country that serves no purpose other than lining the pockets of a select few. Thus, the first thing that must be done is to identify the problem, and the second thing should be making sure that those who were responsible for it are held accountable before the public.
As activists who have been working in and around the Sundarbans for years know quite well, fires can start naturally. It could also be because of intruders who enter the forest. It could be from the cigarettes they smoke. It could be done intentionally by poachers who want to attack wild animals. In fact, there may even be particular reasons for starting fires. There is a fish called Kain Magur (Black eeltail catfish) that is prevalent in the Sundarbans area, which is difficult for fishermen to catch due to the vines and leaves sprouting from the forest floor. So, some fishermen start fires to clear off these vines and leaves so they can catch the fish easily. It is also important to note that we did not get to know immediately about the fire in question. In this era of information technology and instant communication, this is an anomaly. It is also not like Bangladesh is behind in terms of technology. We are advancing on par with the world. We have a science and technology ministry. We regularly

allocate budget for technological advancement in various areas. We are trying to become Smart Bangladesh and have become so in many aspects. The important point to note is that we do have the capability to protect the 6,500 square kilometres of this mangrove forest, and we do keep watch. If a university student flies a drone even 70 kilometres deep into the forest, then he is caught using technology. Yet, when there has been a fire, technology suddenly fails us. In truth, we lack the mindset and the determination to protect the Sundarbans. We are unable to properly use the technology available to us. There is no proper monitoring in place.
As the Sundarbans is a World Heritage Site, upon UNESCO’s repeated requests, the Bangladesh government eventually undertook its Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) in 2020. But following on from this assessment, the goal of which was to see if the Sundarbans was being harmed in any way, what remedies have been taken? In the end, these goals were not achieved. To make sure that the Sundarbans is not brought into consideration, they called it the SEA for the southwest region. They did not cover Barguna in it, nor did they cover Patuakhali. Here, the intention was to find out loopholes. Thus, we could not get the benefits from this assessment that we could have gotten. This is only helping those who are making investments in industry around the area and harming the Sundarbans and our country. In order to show a strong commitment to protecting the Sundarbans, the government must identify exactly why this fire started and take preventative measures so similar incidents does not occur again. We must take actions against those who are responsible for it. Then, if there is a fire again, we should analyse it again to see what steps should be taken.

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