If the year 2020 will go down in history as the darkest year marked by the coronavirus pandemic, some of the worst threats the humankind encountered at the same time were naturally overshadowed by it. One of them is climate change under the influence of which polar ice caps melted faster than ever. The other one —also a related phenomenon —is wildfire or forest fire that raged uncontrollably from Amazon to Australia to the United States of America. Forest fires decimated both forest and wildlife in Australia beyond recovery. Hundreds of species and tens of thousands of wildlife perished in the wildfires. In America from the east coast to the west coast forests were devastated by several such fires. But it was the blazing fires in Amazon considered the lungs of the planet Earth that posed the gravest threat to the environment of the world.
At home, no such forest fire did occur either in the patchy forests in the country’s centre, north-east or south-east or even in the Sunderbans. But of late some incidents of fires have been reported from the mangrove forest —a UNESCO heritage site. If Amazon is considered the lungs of the Earth, the Sunderbans may be seen as the guardian angel of Bangladesh. Not only does it provide a significant number of people in the south-western districts with livelihoods but also protects the country from tidal surge or cyclones that lash at the forest first before weakening and making the landfall. Reportedly, parts of the Amazonian forest have been sold online and forest fires were deliberately started with tacit support from the incumbent president in Brazil. In the Sunderbans too, allegations have it that the recent fires were not accidental but a gang has been active to set areas on fire with the ulterior motive of clearing those for human settlement.
Already overexploited, the Sunderbans has to cope with one of Nature’s fiercest hostilities almost each year. Climate change is also affecting it adversely. It is under such circumstances, invasion by man of its physical parameter can render it less capable of playing its defensive role against natural calamities. Unchecked, human encroachment can even accelerate the process of obliteration of the forest. Such a prospect is the last one this country is ready to accept. Here the similarity of the impact of deforestation of Amazon and that of the Sunderbans is strikingly similar. But in case of Bangladesh the proximity of the mangrove forest is so close that the country will feel the grave threat instantly.
It is good to know that the government is considering a review of coal-fired power plants amid growing concern about environmental deterioration. Will it scrap the Rampal power plant? It should. In addition to this, the factories that have been in operation within the forest area and closer to its periphery should also be relocated on a priority basis. Then focus has to be directed to increase the manpower of the forest department overseeing the management of the Sunderbans. Dishonest foresters with track records of collusion with encroachers need to be screened out. Only dedicated people with known records of love for Nature and wildlife should be assigned the duty of guarding the forest from poachers and timber plunderers.