Thank you Sundarbans!

Tahira Sayed | Published: 00:00, Nov 17,2019

Tahira Sayed, the Sundarbans, Bulbul, Rampal, environment, green activists of Bangladesh,

On November 15, a group of young green activists and likeminded people gathered at Shahbag, Dhaka to thank the Sundarbans for its role in minimising the negative effects the cyclone Bulbul. — Facebook

In wake of the cyclone Bulbul, how the Sundarbans has saved the country from the ravaging storm was one of the most talked-about topics on social media in the past few days and a voice for protecting the forest was raised once again. A group of green activists organised a public programme to say thank you to the great forest, the Sundarbans. Tahira Sayed writes about the initiative and other social media responses  

THE death of at least 22 people as the severe cyclone Bulbul lashed on Bangladesh’s coast on November 9 and crossed over the country into India on the following morning is tragic, but probably the nature’s way of reminding us that we all are earthly being and ecology matters.

The cyclone left a trail of destruction with, as preliminary assessments say, 1.2 million houses being either destroyed or damaged, 50,000 trees being blown over in mostly 325 unions across 14 coastal districts. About 2,000 electric poles broke down and transmission lines spanning 45,000km and 308 electric transformers were damaged, leaving about 2.2 million people without power till November 11 with the Rural Electrification Board struggling to manage.

The board has primarily established that the losses amounted to Tk 150 million. Mobile towers also broke down, disrupting communications. The preliminary official assessments say that coastal embankments spanning 44 kilometres were damaged and standing crops on 2,89,000 hectares were flattened; fisheries covering 1,244 hectares were also damaged by the cyclone and torrential rain that the cyclone caused.

Despite the loss of lives and damages to the crop and fisheries, the scale of destruction of Bubul was less than what was expected. In the coastal areas, local authorities declared grade danger warning signal number 10 and about 17 lakhs people were evacuated. Five to seven feet high storm surge was expected to hit the low-lying areas of the coastal belt, but it lost strength and entered Bangladesh through the Sundarbans in Khulna.

How the Sundarbans has saved the country from the ravaging storm was one of the most talked-about topics on social media in the past few days and a voice for protecting the forest was raised once again. Anu Muhammad, the convener of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port (a platform that is leading the social movement to protect the Sundarbans) has posted on his Facebook page,

Yesterday [November 9], once again, Bangladesh has witnessed the strength of the Sundarbans.

Those who see, but refuse to acknowledge, the cyclone Bulbal wanted to pin-point their attention to, what is the Sundarbans, why it is there and how there is no alternative to the Sundarbans. Immediate after the cyclone, the officials of Meteorology Department told the press, ‘It made landfall into the Sundarbans. It is because of the Sundarbans, the cyclone took longer to pass through Bangladesh. For the presence of the Sundarbans, the force of the stormed also weakened…Everyone acknowledges this except for the government…That is why, despite the government with historical data and other evidences for the last decade, the government refuses to see that the destruction the Sundarbans means leaving Bangladesh unprotected to natural disasters.

The anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International Bangladesh also called for highest efforts from the government to protect the Sundarbans as it acts like a shield to safeguard the country from various natural calamities.

Young green activists and conscientious citizens organised a programme on November 15 to show our gratitude to the great forest that has protected the nation. In the description section of their Facebook event page, the organisers of the event write,

Time and again, the Sundarban’s has been bearing the burnt to protect us. In the past, the coastal areas had faced different devastating cyclone in 1961, 1965, 1966, 1971, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1986, 1991, and 1998. In the recent past, during the cyclone Sidr of 2007, the Aila of 2009 and cyclone Bulbul of 2019, the world’s largest mangrove impacted the wind speed and weakened the strength of the storm.     

That is why, lets gather together to say thank you to the Sundarbans or from wherever we are, we must collectively raise our voice to say, ‘Thank you, O’ Mighty the Sundarbans.

Along with young green tree lovers, architect Iqbal Habib, chairperson of Green Savers Ahsan Rony, freedom fighter Ruhel Ahmed, professor Qamruzzaman Mazumdar, environmentalist Golam Hayder and Munim Siddiqi joined the human chain at Shahbagh. They all unanimously said the Sundarbans is the name of our heritage. The great forest is selflessly caring for us, but we only take from it. The Sundarbans ensure our oxygen, greenery, it provide us honey and most importantly it work as the natural defense for the country from any cyclone. Sadly, instead of protecting our ecological heritage, we have embarked upon this unthankful voyage of destruction, we are taking down tree thinning the forest when this forest is bearing the injury, taking the storm for us.

The event was simple and brief. In the larger scheme of things, it may not have much impact. However, the significance of the event is its acknowledgement of nature as an active being that deserves our gratitude. It raises question about the way we treat nature as a silent object, a site of extracting resource. The successive governments seem to carry no regard for the well-being of our forest and utterly reckless when it comes to protecting our ecological heritage.

The fact that the government went against its own policy and permitted setting up of 190 industrial and commercial units in the ecologically critical area of the Sundarbans is dark example of such reckless and ecologically insensitive development policy.

Many young green activist, in the discussion section of the event commented and asked, is just an ordinary gesture of saying thank you from a far enough to protect the forest? It may not be enough in terms of changing the policy perspective of the government or forcing the government to put a stop to the much debated Rampal Coal-fired Power Plant near the Sundarbans, but it is an important step towards restoring our broken relationship with the nature, ‘Thank you Sundarbans. We are because you are.’

Tahira Sayed is a young green activist.

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