The Sundarbans plays a motherly role in protecting Bangladesh from natural disasters. The Sundarbans has become essential to our lives for a variety of reasons. The Sundarbans is the largest delta in the world and one of the longest saline wetlands and a very important ecosystem rich in biodiversity. Its area in Bangladesh is 6,017 sq km. There are 334 species of plants and 375 species of wildlife in this forest. There are 35 species of reptiles, 315 species of birds, 42 species of mammals and the world famous Royal Bengal Tiger. Major reptiles include saltwater crocodile, python, cobra, sea snake, chameleon, tortoise and others. About 30 species of snakes are found in the Sundarbans. In 1997, UNESCO declared the Sundarbans as a World Heritage Site. After the establishment of the Bengal Forest Department, the Sundarbans was declared a protected area under the Forest Act 1865. The forest is located in the Ganges and Brahmaputra delta areas in the southern part of Bangladesh. It is one of the largest tidal mangrove forests in the world. This forest has gained a reputation as one of the natural forests for her variety of plants and animals. The Sundarbans is considered to be one of the major centres of economic activity. Lots of wood, fuel, honey, beeswax and fish are collected from this forest. The Sundarbans of Bangladesh extends over parts of Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira districts. This forestry consists of about 400 interconnected rivers, canals and about 200 small and large islands.
Once upon a time the size of the Sundarbans was huge. Even 200 years ago, the area of the Sundarbans was about 16,700 square kilometers. At present it has shrunk to one-third of its actual size. About 32400 hectares of this forest have been identified as wildlife sanctuaries. The Sundarbans Sanctuary was established in 1977 under the Wildlife Conservation Act of 1974. Since the Sundarbans is south of the Tropic of Cancer and extends along the northern boundary of the Bay of Bengal, it is classified as a tropical moist forest. Most of the plants in the Sundarbans are mangrove type and there are shrubs, grasses, parasites and various other species of plants. There are fifty natural mangrove plant species in the world and the Sundarbans has thirty-five species. In addition to the Royal Bengal Tiger, the forest also has Chitra deer, Maya deer, monkeys, leopard, wildcats, hedgehogs and wild boar. The biggest feature of this forest is its protective role. This forest prevents coastal erosion and restores coastal areas and suspends riverine sediments. Its estuary is a breeding ground for various types of fish.
A number of industries such as Khulna Newsprint Mills and Hardboard Mills have been set up here depending on the forest resources of the Sundarbans. The plants of the Sundarbans are used as raw material for this industry. Matches and boat-building factories have been set up depending on the trees of Sundarbans. The Sundarbans is one of the most attractive tourist destinations and Cutka, Heronpoint Dublarchar and Tiger Point attract a lot of tourists. Although the number of people living permanently in the Sundarbans area is low, the livelihood of many people depends on the Sundarbans. There is nothing new to say about the role of the Sundarbans in tackling natural disasters. The role of the Sundarbans in tackling Sidr, Aila, Bulbul, Foni, Roanu and Ampan was like that of a mother. Sundarbans reduced the speed of cyclone Amphan by 70 kmph and at the same time reduced the tidal height by three to four feet. About 62% of the total area of the Sundarbans is in Bangladesh and this naturally formed forest tackles various disasters caused by the Sundarbans is the first to tackle natural disasters which gives us a lot of relief from natural disasters..
The Sundarbans, known as the lungs of Bangladesh, is a huge source of oxygen. The Sundarbans plays a unique role in maintaining the balance of the environment and it also plays a special role in economic growth and development. But the sad thing is that we are constantly pushing the Sundarbans towards destruction. Trees in the Sundarbans are being cut down indiscriminately, which is having a devastating effect on the environment. The Rampal power plant is located just 14 km from the Sundarbans and environmentalists believe it will have a detrimental effect on the Sundarbans. However, the Sundarbans is the single largest source of total forest resources in the country. The Sundarbans is a vital source of raw material for wood-dependent industries. According to a study by Chittagong University, the Sundarbans has saved a lot of resources during Cyclone Sidr, valued at 480.29 million dollars. An IPCC survey shows that by 2050, Bangladesh could lose 17 percent of its land and 30 percent of its food production. So there is no alternative to the Sundarbans to tackle future dangers. The Sundarbans has always played a motherly role in protecting Bangladesh from storms and tidal wave. However, the hopeful news is that the government is much more active than before in protecting the Sundarbans. Smart patrolling has started to protect the wildlife of the Sundarbans. The number of deer known as tiger food has also increased a lot and it is now 1 million. The number of aquatic dolphins has also increased and the number of tigers has increased.
However, it has been reported that fishes are being caught in the Sundarbans canals by applying poison and the government has taken action against it. The 10 km area around the Sundarbans has been declared an Environmentally Critical Area (ECA). The annual income from the tourism sector of the Sundarbans is about 414 crore taka. About 35 lakh people are directly or indirectly dependent on this forest. About 1,161 crore taka is earned annually from the fuel, fish, honey and beeswax of Sundarbans. Every year the Sundarbans saves a lot of resources from natural disasters with a mathematical value of 3 thousand and 880 crore taka. The Sundarbans is capable of holding about 160 million metric tons of carbon with an international market value of 5 to 6 billion dollars. The Sundarbans becomes a huge wall in the face of natural disasters and 40% of it was damaged during Sidr in 2007.
The Sundarbans, which covers an area of about 10,000 sq km in Bangladesh and India, is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger. Experts say that the tiger’s normal development is being hampered by the free movement of people in the area of tigers, the disruption of the natural security of the Sundarbans, climate change and loss of tiger habitat. Tigers were counted by camera trapping in 2018 and 114 tigers were found to be part of Bangladesh. There is no alternative to protecting the Sundarbans to protect this rare species of Royal Bengal Tiger.
The Sundarbans bears all massive storms and tidal waves and protects us. Oil tankers often sink in the rivers of the Sundarbans and pollute the river water, endangering the fisheries. Every year, 27,700 saplings are produced per hectare in the Sundarbans. And this is why the Sundarbans has survived by tackling so many natural disasters. The Sundarbans is a huge bulwark of greater Bengal because it has protected these two Bengals from one danger after another. And it is the responsibility of all of us to keep this best friend alive, which should not be neglected at all.
The writer is Assistant Professor, B A F Shaheen College Kurmitola Dhaka Cantonment.