Authorities must prioritise forest conservation

Despite the government's emphatic commitments towards forest conservation, the rampant destruction of the environment continues unabated. The tragic case of Gangamati Reserve Forest in Kuakata, Patuakhali, as reported by this daily, stands as stark evidence of this persistent threat. This forest is allegedly being devastated by a syndicate with the support of local politicians and forest officials. Crimes such as this raise the question—are the authorities indeed as earnest as they claim to be in protecting forests?

The reported devastation is staggering: over 10,000 trees that covered 13 acres of the reserve forest have been felled. Soil from 5 acres was excavated and sold for an embankment project in the last couple of months. It is important to note that, besides being an important ecological resource, this coastal forest has been one of the most crucial natural shields against tropical cyclones, including Cyclone Sidr in 2007. Locals are pointing to an Awami League activist and a range officer, among others, for this destruction; the accused, however, are deflecting blame, stating that the district office has leased out the land, and that it's not them but other perpetrators who are breaking the law. We have seen this pattern of scapegoating and evading accountability countless times, while forestlands continue to get ravaged.

At COP26 in November 2021, Bangladesh signed the Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forests and Land Use, pledging to end deforestation and increase forest cover by 25 percent by 2030. Yet, concrete actions to that end remain elusive. Our reports over the years have revealed numerous instances in which government institutions disregarded forest conservation laws, or individuals exploited their influence for personal gain, leading to rampant deforestation. Our forests are threatened by reckless projects, like those undertaken to build a safari park, prison, and even a training facility for the Bangladesh Football Federation. Roads and railroads are being constructed without due regard for environmental impacts. And cases like Gangamati highlight the disturbing reality of individuals tasked with protecting forests allegedly contributing to their destruction.

As a nation at the forefront of the climate crisis and a prominent voice for climate action and justice, Bangladesh cannot afford to condone deforestation. While projects like "Elephant Overpass" for wild elephants on the Dohazari-Cox's Bazar railway, and the country's first urban forest in Purbachal are commendable, these cannot compensate for the environmental consequences of rampant deforestation. We urge the government to treat every case of forest destruction, including that of Gangamati, as a threat to the entire nation and make forest conservation a top priority.


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