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Rising salinity poses threat to Sundarbans biodiversity

Md Samiur Rahman Sazzad
13 Feb 2024 21:29:18 | Update: 13 Feb 2024 21:29:18
Rising salinity poses threat to Sundarbans biodiversity
— Shamsul Haque Ripon

Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, protects the country from natural disasters every year. But its nature and biodiversity are under threat due to climate change, rising water level, environmental pollution, wildlife poaching and timber smuggling.

It is known that Sundari trees here are dying due to excessive salinity and wild animals are suffering from various diseases. Besides, hunting of wild animals and fishing by spraying pesticides in rivers and canals also go on unabated. Due to these reasons, the biodiversity of Sundarbans is under threat.

The salinity in Sundarbans is increasing from east to west and from north to south. Soil salinity is 2-4.5 ds/m throughout the Sundarbans. During the dry season, soil salinity remains within six ds/m.

On February 14 in 2001, 70 environmental organisations of the country, including Khulna University, declared February 14 as "Sundarbans Day". But Forest Department is not observing the day countrywide. It was being observed only in the coastal districts adjacent to Sundarbans since 2002.

Kazi Maruful Islam, Professor, Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka said, “Due to climate change, Sundarbans are suffering huge damage every year. As a result, people dependent on Sundarbans are also suffering.”

“Bangladesh is one of the world's most climate-vulnerable countries. So, all concerned, including government, research institutes and NGOs, should make concerted efforts as soon as possible to get loss and damage funds,” he added.

Maruful further said, “One of the historic decisions at COP-28 was the Loss and Damage Fund. That is why we need to take immediate steps. But if we don't know the extent of our loss, then we can't do debt-courting at international level.”

However, the world's rarest natural resources are plagued by tyranny and injustice and the mangrove forest is constantly facing the threat of existential crisis.

Rafiqul Islam Khokan, co-founder and executive director of Rupantar, a non-governmental development organisation, said that the first national Sundarban conference was organised in Khulna on February 14, 2001.

“The conference decided to observe "Sunderbans Day" on February 14 and demanded that the government observe "Sundarbans Day" nationally. But so far there has been no response to observe Sundarbans Day nationally,” he added.

Sharif Jamil, General Secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa) said, “The government is taking various steps to protect the Sundarbans which has been appreciated by UNESCO. But without implementing those steps, reverse industrialisation is being done.”

“Various projects including new factories and thermal power plants are being taken up. I will call on the officials concerned to put on paper the steps taken around the Sundarbans to focus on speedy implementation in a meaningful way.”

He added: “This mangrove forest is not just a forest, but also an ecosystem. Its rivers, surrounded by huge natural resources, are now a unique resource not only of Bangladesh but also of the world.”

Prof Ahmed Kamruzzaman Majumder, dean of Science Faculty at Stamford University Bangladesh said, “Sundarbans is important for all of Bangladesh. Sundarbans has kept Bangladesh ahead in various sectors, including natural disasters, mineral resources, and tourism which are under threat today due to encroachment and pollution.”

“The Sundarbans has already suffered a lot due to unauthorised entry and approval of various industries within the territory. Considering it a national resource, attention should be paid to its protection,” he added.

Quazi Mohammad Nurul Karim, Divisional Forest Officer of Sundarban East Division, Bagerhat said, “We are doing what we need to do to protect the biodiversity of the Sundarbans. The Ministry of Environment and Forests is working on this.”

Though Sundarbans is a world heritage site, different ships, oil tankers, and cargoes use its river. An oil spill occurred in the Sundarbans in December 2014 when a small coastal oil tanker sank, releasing approximately 400,000 litres of oil in the water.

While talking about this, Karim said, “It is an international shipping route. From Mongla port, cargo ships ply through the Sundarbans. But no one wants any accident to happen. In this regard, the Ministry of Shipping and the Ministry of Environment and Forests have to sit and work in a coordinated manner.”

According to the Forest Department, 51 per cent of the country's protected forest land is the Sundarbans. There are 334 species of trees, including Sundari, Gewa, Garan, and Pasur in this forest with an area of about 6,117 square kilometres. The rivers are home to six species of dolphins and 210 species of fish.

In the 18th century, the Sundarbans was almost twice the size of today. In 1878, Sundarbans was declared as a reserved forest. In 1997, the United Nations UNESCO Commission declared the three sanctuaries of the Sundarbans as World Heritage Sites.

The Sundarbans is home to the world-famous Royal Bengal Tiger. Besides, there are various species of birds and reptiles, including chitra and maya deer, monkeys, wildcats, leopards, porcupines, and wild boars.