Sundarbans sanctuary extended, many lose livelihood

Sundarbans sanctuary extended, many lose livelihood

Dhaka, Sep 23 (Just News): Biodiversity boundaries have been extended in the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest. Experts expect the move will help boost all types of forest resources including wildlife, fisheries, and trees.

The government imposes a ban on the collection of all types of wild resources from areas designated as 'sanctuaries' in the forest. The forest department has demarcated these sanctuary areas by colouring the trees differently and blocking the entrance for fishermen, woodcutters, and honey collectors.

The Sundarbans is the world's largest coastal mangrove forest, straddling the border of India and Bangladesh. The total area of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh is around 6,017 sq kilometres.

According to a new notification of the government, over half of the Sundarbans' total area in Bangladesh is now designated as a sanctuary, which will go a long way towards the protection of wildlife in the mangrove forest.

The 'sanctuary' designated areas now add up to 317,950 hectares, more than double of 139,699 hectares that was categorised as such over two decades ago.

In 1996, the government granted sanctuary status to 139,699 hectares area, covering 23 per cent of the total area of the forest.

Recently, the government issued a notification on the expansion of sanctuary areas in different parts of the Sundarbans after 21 years. Through this notification, another 178,260 hectares have been added to the existing sanctuary. That means over half the area of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh has sanctuary status.

Forest department sources said, of the additional 178,000-odd hectares falling under the sanctuary status, 91,693 hectares is from Sarankhola range (Sundarbans east); 38,339 hectares from Khulna range (Sundarbans south) and 48,216 hectares from Satkhira range (Sundarbans west).

Md Amir Hossain, forest conservator of Khulna circle, said the government has banned the collection of all types of forest resources from the sanctuary areas. It will help increase the biodiversity of the forest including wildlife and trees.

The reproduction rate of wild animals ranging from tigers to deer and all birds and fish will increase in the safe sanctuary, Amir Hossain predicted.

Md Mahmudul Hasan, divisional forest officer of the Sundarbans east, said the forest department has marked the sanctuary areas. Placards and signboards would be hung at different points within two months.

None can enter the sanctuary areas for collecting any kind of forest resources, he emphasised.

Only 12,000 fishermen, woodcutters and honey collectors are allowed to enter the forest to extract resources under strict monitoring.

Meanwhile, a project titled 'Sundarbans Protection' has been proposed and awaits approval of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC).

The project will help provide alternative employment for people near the forest, he said.

Professor Mahmud Hossain, at the forestry and wood technology department of Khulna University, said the expansion of sanctuary is good news for the Sundarbans as it will reduce "human pressure on the forest."

An end to the extraction of its resources is expected to boost the population of wildlife, trees and water resources of the Sundarbans.

The government, however, will be facing challenges to create alternative employment for the people who are dependent on the forest resources.

On the other hand, the forest-dependent traders, fishermen, woodcutter and honey collectors are not pleased by the expansion of the sanctuary. Their poverty has increased significantly since the expansion of the sanctuary.

Jalal Mollah, a fish trader of Sarankhola upazila, said he has no business due to the expansion of the sanctuary area in the Sundarbans. He and fishermen could catch nothing as most of the rivers in the upazila are now out of bounds.

A good number of fishermen have become jobless and now they are searching for alternative employment, he added.

Alamin Munshi of Khurialkhali village and Phul Mia of Sarankhola village, relayed how they've been facing extreme difficulty in running their families since the expansion of the sanctuary in the Sundarbans and ban on fishing in the certain areas.

Their grievance, quite clearly, was not so much at the vast new chunks of forest being closed off to them, but that it was done without providing any alternative employment, a means to live, for the fishermen and others like them, who depend on its resources.