POST TIME: 12 February, 2020 12:07:24 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 12 February, 2020 02:06:21 PM
No let-up in deforestation
Despite the rising tree cover in Bangladesh, at least 2,600 hectares of forests lost annually from 1990 to 2015

No let-up in deforestation

Insufficient demarcation of ‘forest land’ boundaries has worsened deforestation in the country as 64,000 hectares of such forests have been transferred to other agencies for non-forest purposes between 1971 and 2015.

Despite the rising tree cover in Bangladesh, at least 2,600 hectares of forests have been lost annually from 1990 to 2015.

The key factors of deforestation and forest degradation in Bangladesh are population growth, illegal harvest of forests, fuel wood harvesting, commercial agriculture (including shifting cultivation in hill forests like tobacco), encroachment by industry and other settlements, according to a study prepared by the Ministry of Forest, Environment, and Climate Change under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) between 2000 and 2015.

According to Bangladesh forest department (BFD) sources, the land survey department has given many reserve and protected forest areas to individuals through record without verification. Even deputy commissioners (DC) have also leased out forest lands flouting rules, the sources said.

However, the BFD has taken steps to increase the forest areas through social forestry and coastal green belt, considering that Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.

Ariful Hoque Belal, assistant chief conservator of forests, told The Independent yesterday: “Overpopulation, unplanned urbanisation, industrialisation, and the development of communication infrastructure are the major causes of deforestation Bangladesh.”

The government-controlled forest areas amount to about 23 lakh hectares across the country,  Belal said, adding that the total forest areas are unfenced as it is not possible to fence such huge  areas.

“We lack manpower to monitor the huge forest areas. While the approved manpower is 10,000, as many as 3,000 posts are currently vacant. We’ve already submitted a proposal of 17,000 posts to increase the manpower for the BFD,” Belal said.

No single post has been created for the BFD over the past 20 years as the government, he noted.

Owing to land scarcity and rapid population growth, any expansion of the designated ‘forest land’ is extremely difficult in Bangladesh, he said.

“The BFD is trying to increase the tree cover outside forest lands by encouraging tree plantations in homestead and participatory approaches like social forestry on embankments in the coastal areas, roadside plantations, and other forestry activities,” said Belal.

The government has a target to increase the tree cover areas to 25 per cent by 2030 throughout the country and 24 per cent by 2025 to achieve the sustainable development goal (SDG), he noted.

Through social forestry, coastal afforestation, and reforestation programmes taken up by the BFD, 84,378 hectares and 68,830 km plantations have been raised from 1981–1982 to 2016–2017.

The forest land boundaries are neither well demarcated in the field nor digitally delineated. So, BFD officials have to rely solely on hard copies of Cadastral Survey,

Revisional Survey, and Bangladesh Survey maps for the management of ‘forest land’.

The digitisation and delineation of ‘forest land’ boundaries have been conducted only on a pilot basis.

In the hill forests, apart from illegal and excessive wood and fuel wood harvest, other drivers of deforestation include jhum agriculture (shifting cultivation practised by ethnic groups) and commercial agriculture like horticulture, tobacco, and root crops.

Anthropogenic fire (to support agricultural activities) and encroachment also drive deforestation in the hill forests.