According to environmental science, 25% of a country’s land area should be covered with forests for balanced ecology. Bangladesh, however, has only 6% that is forested. All about deforestation in Bangladesh including its causes, effects, and possible solutions are discussed below:
50% of the country’s forests have been destroyed in the last 20 years. The indiscriminate felling of trees in the greater parts of Dhaka, Mymensingh, Rajshahi, Rangpur, and Dinajpur has resulted in an alarming depletion of the forests.
Some 30 years ago, the forest area in Tangail was 2,000 acres; today it is down to 1,000 across. Similarly, the forests in the Chittagong Hill Tracts have been over-exploited by the tribal people, mainly for cultivation.
Causes of deforestation in Bangladesh
The increasing demand for land for agriculture, homes, and industries caused by a population explosion has taken a heavy toll on the country’s forests since the early 20th century.
In 1910, the country’s population was 40 million but now it has more than tripled to 140 million. In the 1980s, the rate of destruction of forests in the country was 8,000 hectares per year. Now it has gone up to 37,700 hectares per year. The annual deforestation rate is 3.3%.
Deforestation in Bangladesh leading to desertification in the country started in the central Briand area in the northwest of Bangladesh. It is feared that if this process continues a large part of Bangladesh will turn into a desert.
Forest officials blame illegal encroachment by the local people and over-exploitation of forest resources as the immediate reasons for the fast depletion of woodlands in Bangladesh. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, substantial loss of forest resources is attributed to the commercial exploitation of immature trees for sale on the black market. Commercial use of forest land for the monoculture of rubber and for fuelwood has also had a negative impact on the country’s forests.
A massive expansion of commercial shrimp culture recently appeared to be the latest threat to the forests in the southern coastal areas, especially in Satkhira and Cox’s Bazaar.
How shrimp culture causes deforestation
There is a possibility of ecological damage to the country’s coastal belt, where shrimp farming has been developed over the last three decades. Shrimp cultivation is suitable where brackish water is available.
The unplanned and uncontrolled growth of shrimp enclosures has led to the destruction of mangrove forest areas and a reaction in livestock. The cultivation of shrimp affects the soil since it needs saline water for a long period of the year.
Shrimp cultivation has not only caused a significant loss to traditional agriculture but also to the environment, for example, a reduction in fruit-bearing trees. During the month of April, the concentration of salinity in the soil becomes severe, causing deforestation in Bangladesh.
In 1972, the Chakoria Sundarbans in Cox’s Bazar occupied an area of 19,000 hectares. By 1981, this forest area was squeezed down to a mere 9,000 hectares, and in 1985, it was further reduced to only 4,000 hectares. And again half of this forest was destroyed by 1991.
Chakoria Sundarbans is an example of how unplanned shrimp culture can be the cause of the destruction of a flourishing forest. The dykes of the shrimp enclosures hinder the free flow of floodwater and cause acute salinity, which is damaging the forests.
In the shrimp enclosures, the land remains under saltwater throughout the year. This increases the concentration of salt in the soil, which later results in the depletion of the forests. Shrimp culture reduces the fertility of the land and thus leaves adverse effects on nature and the environment. It is very difficult to innovate an environment-friendly method of shrimp culture.
Two-thirds of the Sundarban mangrove forests, stretching from the southern end of the Ganges/ Brahmaputra delta to the Hoogly river in the west, are in Bangladesh. The level of salinity is a crucial factor in the protection of coastal mangroves.
But the eastward shift of the Ganges channel has, over the decades, reduced the freshwater flows into the distributaries that flow down through the Sundarbans. After the construction of the Farakka Barrage, in the Indian state of West Bengal, the freshwater flow through the Sundarbans has further decreased, causing a rise in the salinity in the area.
Effects of deforestation in Bangladesh
There are widespread effects of deforestation:
- Soil erosion in the immediate areas: this has secondary effects as the soil ultimately washes down to rivers and causes floods.
- Reduction of rainfall: this results from the lack of evaporation from leaves, as none remain, and from the reduction in the absorptive capacity of the ground. This causes droughts.
- climatic changes: perhaps the most devastating effect of deforestation, this it affects all over the world. It is a major reason for global warming.
- nature: forests are home to man exotic species of plants and animals. These species lose their habitat, and this is a great loss to the ecology and the scientific community.
Besides reforestation (re-stocking woodlands that have been depleted), afforestation programs (planting trees on areas formerly used for other purposes) have taken place throughout the country to maintain an ecological balance, for example, strip plantations alongside railways, roads and embankments, and coastal afforestation programs.
Biodiversity conservation in the Sundarbans reserved forests is the biggest ongoing project, its objective being to promote and implement biodiversity conservation and sustainable forest management. This can only happen through massive forestation of all available land along roads, railways, canal banks, and in the depleted Sal forests.
Also, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, afforestation has taken place, along with the rehabilitation of Jhumia families, in order to protect the soil and the environment.
The Department of Forest alone cannot achieve these goals, but it needs the active support of the local people and the private sector, who have vested interests in the forests.
People should be taught how they can live in harmony with the forest without destroying it. Sustainable development programs need to be spread among the people so that they benefit from the resources of the forest while at the same time saving it.
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