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The Financial Express

The bell tolls for Bangladesh nature

Shihab Sarkar | Published: March 09, 2020 21:18:51


The bell tolls for Bangladesh nature

Geologists say the Sahara desert was once a massive expanse filled with lush greenery and numerous water bodies, with its inhabitants engaged in agriculture. The area is believed to have been gifted with a plant life comprising an array of botanical genera now long lost. The period is estimated to have existed 11,000 to 5,000 years ago. Normal climate change, and that was caused by man's tampering with nature back in those times, is largely blamed for the creation of the desert.

The atrocious way the unscrupulous quarters have been engaged in destroying the natural bounties of Bangladesh over the past three decades, the land is feared to see the start of its desertification in the future. Rise in sea-level may inundate its coastal areas, but the rest of the country's landscape may turn barren with thinned out trees, no hills or hillocks. Most of the country's rivers, if the present trend of encroachment continues unabated, will begin dying away in the not-too-distant future. Major and the once-mighty rivers are apprehended to be destined to emerge as water flows without strong current. According to climate experts and ecologists, the process of an overall decay in nature has already been in place in the country.

Those days may not be too far when children will ask their parents and teachers what a hill exactly looks like. They might want to know if Bangladesh had hills in the past really. Those who are over-inquisitive may not want to believe that the clusters of trees along the sea and surrounded by human habitats, industries etc were once part of the world's largest mangrove forest. They have heard of the Royal Bengal Tiger, spotted deer, crocodiles and other animals which used to roam the forest areas. The children of the coming days may badger the elders with queries about their whereabouts. Environmental activists who care about the consequences of the ongoing destruction of nature and the tampering with its different facets can visualise the grim ecological realities awaiting them in the future.

The saga of Bangladesh begins with rivers, closely followed by its hills and forests. These vital parts of the country's nature and biosphere remained unspoiled for centuries. It's only during the passage of time, spanning the past four decades, when the first assaults on the land's largely pristine nature had been made. The rivers close to the big cities, the Buriganga in particular, became the first victims. Encroachment and mindless pollution began tolling the bell for the rivers. In a couple of decades, few of the country's around 750 rivers remained free of the swoops made by the river-grabbers and polluters. At the same time, the Padma and its branches, the Tista, and many others faced drastic fall in their water level. At present, thanks to the countrywide encroachment, pollution and water withdrawals from across the border, river experts are set to begin a countdown to the final days of many rivers. With their flows slowing down and, eventually, falling into disuse, nothing could be a more horrifying nightmare for this country proverbially famed for its rivers.

The High Court in a historic verdict declared rivers as a 'living entity'. Alongside, it has been intermittently issuing orders and directives asking the relevant authorities to take actions against the river grabbers. But the syndicates and powerful individuals continue their vile acts, with few signs of restraint. Responding to the court orders, the government and the authorities concerned occasionally make attempts to rein in the culprits. They are found conducting apparently all-out drives against illegal structures built on the grabbed riverbanks. In the greater Dhaka and some other areas, a prolonged demolition drive is being carried out. But faint apprehensions lie beneath the seemingly unrelenting campaign. As has been seen in the past, these operations stop suddenly after making some progresses.

In fact, this non-serious style of government actions encourages the river encroachers, who remain arrogant and employ their all-out efforts to grab the targeted river or riverside areas. In order to save the country's big and small rivers, the relevant administrations ought to be aggressive in their enforcement of laws. There should not be any let-up in their campaigns to free the rivers, and keep the other rivers off-limits to future grabbers. The indiscriminate style of river pollution has exacted a heavy toll on the country's once-vibrant river network. In fact, no rivers are spared this existential threat. The Buriganga and other rivers around Dhaka have been singled out as being the worst victims of pollution. Over the last few years, the sparkling and vibrant rivers line the Surma, the Kushiyra, the Karnaphuli and many others have been found grappling with the pollution menace. Of the country's major rivers, the Karnaphuli has for ages been recognised as being on top of the list of pollution-free rivers. Of late, the views of the pollution-plagued river near the Chattogram city areas fill many with sheer gloom, prompting many others to prepare to see worse times for the river. Pollution has also started creeping into the hilly river Shankha in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).

With the majority of the country's rivers being in the virtual death throes, another object integral to the richness of Bangladesh nature are the hills that are under constant threat of extinction. The pace at which the unscrupulous gangs are flattening the hills for construction purpose defying rules and regulations, may leave no single hill in the next 50 years. Luckily, Bangladesh has only a few isolated spots filled with hills and hillocks, the largest being the three CHT districts. After levelling hills to plunder their rich soil and felling trees for using as brick kiln fuel, small and large syndicates have now begun entering deep into the CHT. In effect, this destructive hill-levelling practice has put the lives of the indigenous people at risk. Few seem to bother to hear their cries for ensuring their safety. People should not be termed doomsayers if they discover the Sahara spectre in these nature-hostile orgies.

shihabskr@ymail.com

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