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18 Forest resources of Bangladesh with reference to conservation of biodiversity and wildlife in particular for poverty alleviation


M.M. Rahman[27]

ABSTRACT

The loss of biodiversity has been taking place since humans first learned to harvest natural resources and to manage the land to increase its productivity. Depletion of natural resources and rapid loss of biodiversity have occurred over time to meet the basic needs of the growing population. Bangladesh is far behind in raising public awareness of the ecological, economic and socio-cultural value of biodiversity and promoting local community participation in its sustainable conservation and management programmes. Biodiversity being a major source of food, fibre, fuel, fodder and other useful things needs adequate attention and increased knowledge for its conservation and wise use in a sustainable manner. Sustainable management and conservation of ecospecific biodiversity through the poor people’s active participation can contribute substantially to poverty alleviation in the context of environmental conservation. Poverty alleviation programmes should be aimed at creating common property management such as common forestry, common horticulture, common fruit gardens and community-based common wildlife management for conserving biodiversity.

INTRODUCTION

Country profile

Bangladesh has a population of about 131.6 million, with a very low per capita gross national product (GNP) of US$370 (World Bank 2000). Bangladesh has a comparatively low natural resource base, but a high growth rate of population with almost half of the population below fifteen years of age. Most of the people are among the poorest in the world, and depend mainly on the natural resource base for their livelihood. But now the resource base is under serious threat, as many natural resources are either being overexploited or used suboptimally. Besides the effects of anthropogenic stresses, the low ‘land-man’ ratio in the country is often further threatened by natural hazards. Thus, for the survival of Bangladesh’s dense population, it is essential to have environmental planning and management that conserve and sustain the ecosystems that support their livelihoods.

The high population density, low economic growth, lack of institutional infrastructure, an intensive dependence on agriculture and agricultural products, geographical settings, and various other factors, all contribute to make the country weak in its economic development and quality of life. Table 1 is a summary of the social, economic and environmental indicators in Bangladesh from 1981 to 1995.

Table 1. Statistics of the social, economic and environmental indicators in Bangladesh from 1981 to 1995

Indicator

1981

1991

1995

Population (millions)

89.9

111.5

119.8

Land area (km2)

144 000

147 570

147 570

Forest (%)

15.0

12.8

12.7

Agriculture (%)

60.5

55.1

52.1

Urban population as % of total population

15.2

17.2

22.0

Population below poverty level (%)

73.0

47.0

45.8

Life expectancy at birth (years)

55.0

56.0

58.0

Literacy rate (%)

23.8

32.4

37.2

Source: Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (1979, 1997 and 1998).

Quality of life in Bangladesh

Population

Bangladesh has a population of 131.6 million in 2001, and with more than 830 persons km-2 it is the most densely populated country in the world. Population growth is identified as perhaps the most serious problem inhibiting the sustainable use of resources. Increases in development or productivity are eroded by population growth. At present over 50 percent of the population in Bangladesh are below 15 years of age. Hence in the next 10 years, there will be a dramatic rise in demand for employment, but opportunities in agriculture appear to be limited, and other sectors are not creating sufficient new jobs. The demand for land is enormous, because of the population density, and the very low land-man ratio intensifies the competition for the very limited land resources for different uses. Conversion of the vast population to a productive human resource remains the greatest development challenge.

Poverty

It is estimated that more than 40 percent of the population regularly consume less than the absolute critical minimum of 1800 kilocalories per day. These 50 million people are amongst the poorest in the world by any standard of development. Furthermore, it has been estimated that the number of absolute poor has risen significantly. The poverty of these deprived people is deep rooted, pervasive and multi-faceted, relating not just to the absence of reliable incomes and productive assets, but also to food, safe water, sanitation, education, shelter, inequities, injustice and lack of power. These deprived people are also extremely vulnerable to disaster and disease. The challenges posed by this massive poverty are enormous for a country with accelerating environmental degradation of an overpopulated land base.

The human development indicators for Bangladesh are also staggeringly low. Bangladesh has an adult literacy rate of 37 percent, life expectancy of 58 years and population below poverty level of 45 percent. Urban slum dwellers now account for some 15 percent of the population and this is still growing by 6 percent per year.

STATUS OF FORESTS

According to the Department of Environment, Bangladesh, 24 percent of its land area was forested in 1947. This has been reduced to only 6.5 percent in 1980 as estimated by the World Resources Institute[28]. The reduction of forest cover in Bangladesh between 1947 and 1980 is thus estimated to be 75 percent.

The neighbouring countries in South and Southeast Asia are relatively better off in this respect. The proportion of land area with closed forest in Nepal is 13 percent, in India 16 percent, in Sri Lanka 26 percent, in Bhutan 45 percent and in Myanmar 47 percent. The proportion of area under closed forest would be only 5.8 percent of the total area of Bangladesh in 1991 (Figure 1) with an estimated annual deforestation rate of 8000 ha. The actual proportion is likely to be lower as the extraction of forest resources has increased in recent years.

Figure 1. Status of closed forests, 1991.

Ecological harmony necessitates a certain balance between resource endowment and population. Viewed in this context, the situation in Bangladesh is extremely critical. Based on the forestry figure of 1980 and population figure of 1980-90, per capita availability of closed forests is estimated to be 1.4 ha in Bhutan and 0.8 ha in Myanmar. In Nepal, 10 persons are endowed with one hectare of forest on the average whereas it is 17 persons in India, but 125 persons in Bangladesh have to share one hectare of closed forest.

The area of Bangladesh is about 147 570 km2. Except for the hilly regions in the northeast and the southeast, the country consists of low, flat and fertile land with a network of rivers flowing to the Bay of Bengal. The forests comprise 17 percent of the total area of the country. Of this, the Forest Department manages about 10 percent and off-forest land covered by trees is about 7 percent. In recent decades, there has been a great decline in forest resources. Only 7.7 percent of the total areas of Bangladesh are under close tree cover (Tables 2 and 3).

Table 2. Land use in Bangladesh

Land classification

Area (million ha)

Percent

Land under cultivation

9.12

63.33

Land under national forests

1.32

9.51

Unclassed state forests

0.74

5.14

Khas forest land

0.03

0.21

Village/homestead forests

0.27

1.87

Land under tea garden

0.11

0.76

Cultivable/uncultivable land

0.35

2.43

Land under rural & urban houses

0.63

4.38

Land under ponds

0.13

0.90

Land constantly under water

1.64

11.47

Total

14.39

100.00

Source: Anonymous (1982).

Table 3. Forest land and tree cover as percentage of total land of Bangladesh

Classification

Total forest area (million ha)

Percent of total land



Total area

Tree cover

Hill forest land

1.38

9.6

2.3

Littoral forest land

0.65

4.5

3.2

Plains (sal) forests

0.11

0.7

0.3

Total state forest land

2.14

14.8

5.8

Village forests/homestead

0.27

1.9

1.9

All

2.41

16.7

7.7

Source: Anonymous (1982).

There are three major natural forest types in Bangladesh (Kamaluddin and Shamsuddin 1977). These are semi-evergreen forest occurring on the eastern hills, deciduous sal (Shorea robusta) forest on the central and northwestern terraces and the mangroves littoral forest facing the Bay of Bengal (Figure 2). Additionally, there are human raised village forests all over the country which cover an area of 1.87 percent, but are highly productive. Besides, fresh water swamp forest occurs in low-lying areas of Sylhet and also in depressions within semi-evergreen forest. Recently several authors have discussed various forest types of Bangladesh (Chaffey and Sandom 1985, Das 1990, Khan and Alam 1996, Siddiqi 2001).

Figure 2. Major natural forest types of Bangladesh

STATUS OF BIODIVERSITY IN BANGLADESH

Once Bangladesh had rich species diversity. The natural forests were virtually undisturbed and used to support a heterogeneous vegetation. Due to the raising of plantations with single crops following the harvesting of the natural forests and the introduction of exotic species in some areas, the floral diversity has been reduced over a greater part of the country. A rich heterogeneous flora is ideal habitat for wildlife. Reduction in floral diversity has caused damage to animal habitat, existence and abundance.

Biodiversity research initiatives in Bangladesh

A number of projects having biodiversity components are being implemented in Bangladesh. Some of the noteworthy ones are described below:

National Conservation Strategy (NCS)

The idea for a National Conservation Strategy (NCS) emerged in September 1986. Its primary goal was the sustainable use of natural resources. The National Conservation Strategy Implementation Project I (1994-1999) was a five-year project implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), with financial and technical support from NORAD and IUCN. Through this NCS Phase 1, one major programme was implemented in four distinct ecosystems-tropical and mangrove forest areas, St. Martin’s Island, Tangour Haor and Barind Tract. The main objectives of all these activities is conservation of biodiversity.

Coastal and Wetland Biodiversity Management

Bangladesh has completed a Pre-Investment Feasibility (PRIF) study in the “Coastal and Wetland Biodiversity Management Project” funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). It was a preparatory initiative to develop a project proposal to implement a reserve, and a multiple-use management programme for the protection, sustainable management, and integration of at least three-priority biodiversity sites in Bangladesh. The primary focus was to integrate conservation and development, in order to protect and manage the priority areas in a sustainable way. The duration of the project was 15 December 1997 to 31 December 1999. The Project Brief and the outcome of the said PRIF study project have already been approved by the Project Steering Committee, and subsequently accepted by the GEF. The product of the follow-up project entitled “Coastal and Wetland Biodiversity Management in Cox’s Bazar and Hakaluki Haor (BGD1991G31)” has also been prepared, and approved by the GEF council for funding. This project is under process of execution by the Government of Bangladesh.

Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)

In December 2000 the Minister of Water Resources announced the Government’s intention to develop an ICZM policy. Among other objectives, the ICZM policy will attempt to rationalize and coordinate more effectively a number of environment and development initiatives taking place in the coastal zone. A number of donors, including the World Bank and the Netherlands Government, will be supporting the development of the policy over the coming years.

National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan

The GEF headquarters has already approved the project document; the project is under execution.

Conservation and management of medicinal plants

A project on the conservation and management of biodiversity of medicinal plants for their sustainable utilization will be executed in Rangamati Hill district. This project is in the process of final approval by the GEF. The specific objectives of the project are:

Sustainable Environment Management Programme (SEMP)

The SEMP is the response evolved from the concerns, needs and actions identified through the National Environment Management Action Plan (NEMAP) process. It focuses on community-based resource management in wetlands. In the NEMAP several major priority areas of environmental concern were identified, and the SEMP has been designed to address these priorities. The programme consists of 26 components on five major themes, and is implemented by 22 organizations from the government, non-government organizations (NGOs) and private sector. The community-based “Haor and Floodplain Resource Management Project” is being implemented by the IUCN with the Ministry of Environment and Forest, in two well-defined degraded areas of haor and floodplain ecosystems. The major focus of the programme is to involve community people in the planning and implementation of activities for the management of natural resources that maintain biodiversity and human well-being.

Management of Aquatic Ecosystem through Community Husbandry (MACH)

The natural resources in the floodplains and wetlands throughout Bangladesh are in decline. Thus, to conserve these resources the Government of Bangladesh and the United States of America have jointly developed a programme called MACH. An agreement to implement this programme was signed in May 1998. Its goal is to ensure the sustainable productivity of all wetland resources such as water, fish, plant and wildlife over an entire wetland ecosystem.

Sundarbans Biodiversity Conservation Programme

The Asian Development Bank funded the project “Biodiversity Conservation in the Sundarbans Reserved Forest.” The objective of the project was to establish a effective system for the participatory and sustainable management of the ecosystem of the Sundarbans Reserved Forest. The scope of the project included biodiversity conservation, sustainable resource management, community development, participatory resources management programme, development of ecotourism infrastructure, and establishing a new multisectoral management agency that will work for an integrated conservation and development approach.

Forest Resources Management Project

The World Bank funded a programme on “Forest Resources Management Project” in 1992. The primary objective of the project was to establish and maintain a forest management system that was fully responsive to the economic, environmental and social goals of the country; and to improve the productivity of government-owned forests in order to meet the country’s wood and energy needs as much as possible while still protecting the environment.

Biodiversity survey in 13 protected areas

A biological survey study was conducted in 13 protected areas by the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, in collaboration with the Forest Department. The survey was conducted to assess the biological resources available in the designated areas. The potential value of each protected area was evaluated through determination of the species present, the relative abundance of the species and the species diversity. The critical habitats in each of the protected areas were identified for protecting the threatened species, and also for developing protective area management plans.

Floral diversity

The vegetation of Bangladesh has been discussed under forest types. But the species include mainly those which are of commercial importance. The greater bulk of plant species for Bangladesh are yet to be recorded for different forest types. It is believed that 5000 species of angiospermic plants occur is Bangladesh. There are 750-800 tree species including indigenous, exotic and naturalized ones. The number of shrubs and woody climbers is 1500-2000 species and the remaining are herbs. Bangladesh has approximately 15 percent tree, 35 percent shrub and woody climber, and 50 percent herb species (M.K. Alam, personal communication, 2002).

Faunal diversity

Bangladesh shares similar ecological conditions with the neighbouring countries. So it is unlikely to have ecologically adapted species, especially of higher groups of plants and animals. Biodiversity has three components: species, genetic and ecosystem. Considering the available information and time constraint only species diversity in relation to habitat will be discussed. With forests disappearing rare wildlife and biological diversity has also been reduced quite rapidly. Many species have gone totally extinct, and some wildlife species have also been severely affected because of the shrinking forests.

Causes for depletion of wildlife diversity

Till to end of the 19th century, wildlife was holding ground over a sizable area of Bangladesh (Husain 1974). All the forest types and village groves had a rich fauna. According to Husain (1992) at least 18 species of vertebrate animals became extinct during the last century from their natural habitats in Bangladesh (Table 4). Still species diversity is quite good (Table 5) although the population status of important species is unsatisfactory. However, information on the high diversity of invertebrate animals is insufficient owing to the lack of studies and limited resource personnel. Nevertheless, the author has identified 12 species of wildlife as extinct in Bangladesh (Table 6). There are presently 22 species of amphibians, 109 species of reptiles, 628 species of birds including migratory ones, and 110 species of mammals. A sharp decline of wildlife has taken place for various reasons such as:

- indiscriminate hunting;
- poaching of animals;
- export of animals;
- habitat destruction;
- lack of people’s awareness;
- poor management of protected areas and reserved forests;
- lack of a plan for compatible forest and wildlife management;
- inefficient implementation of law for wildlife conservation;
- natural calamities like flooding, tidal surge, etc.

Table 4. Animal species extinct from Bangladesh during the last century

Wildlife class

English name

Scientific name

Mammalia

Great one-horned rhinoceros

Rhinoceros unicornis

Lesser one-horned/Javan rhinoceros

Rhinoceros sondaicus

Asiatic two-horned rhinoceros

Didermocerus sumatrensis

Blue bull/nilgai

Boselaphus tragocamelus

Wild buffalo

Bubalus bubalis

Gaur

Bos gaurus

Banteng

Bos banteng

Swamp deer/barasingha

Cervus duvauceli

Marbled cat

Canis lupus

Hog deer

Axis porcinus

Wolf

Canis lupus

Golden cat

Felis temmincki

Aves

Pinkheaded duck

Rhodonessa caryophyllacea

Greater adjutant

Leptoptilos dubius

King/black vulture

Sarcogyps calvus

Bengal florican

Euphodotis bengalensis

Burmese peafowl

Pavo muticus

Reptilia

Marsh crocodile

Crocodylia palustris

Source: Husain (1992).

Table 5. Status of inland and resident vertebrates (species diversity) of Bangladesh

Group

Total No. of living species

Extinct

Threatened

Critically endangered

Endangered

Vulnerable

Total

Amphibians

22

0

0

3

5

8

Reptiles

109

1

12

24

22

58

Birds

388*

2

19

18

4

41

Mammals

110

10

21

13

6

40

Total

629

13

52

48

38

147

Source: IUCN (2000).
* Excluding migratory birds.

Table 6. Animal species extinct from Bangladesh at present

Wildlife class

English name

Scientific name

Mammalia

Great one-horned rhinoceros

Rhinoceros unicornis

Lesser one-horned/Javan rhinoceros

Rhinoceros sondaicus

Asiatic two-horned rhinoceros

Didermocerus sumatrensis

Blue bull/nilgai

Boselaphus tragocamelus

Wild buffalo

Bubalus bubalis

Gaur

Bos gaurus

Banteng

Bos banteng

Swamp deer/barasingha

Cervus duvauceli

Marbled cat

Canis lupus

Aves

Pinkheaded duck

Rhodonessa caryophyllacea

Common peafowl

Pavo cristatus

Reptilia

Marsh crocodile

Crocodylia palustris

Source: Rahman (2002, unpublished).

PROTECTED AREAS FOR WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT

Protected areas (PAs) of Bangladesh

Owing to the growing human population and agriculture expansion, there is heavy pressure on forest and forest resources. A good number of species are endangered and threatened. They are also likely to be extinct unless adequate measures are immediately taken. Merely declaring and demarcating some places as protected areas will not serve the purpose.

To save wildlife fauna we have in all ten wildlife sanctuaries, six national parks and one game reserve (Table 7), However, the management of PAs is improper for conservation and improvement of wildlife fauna. Socio-economic impact of the surrounding population is too great for the management of the PAs. Scientific and socio-economic studies must be undertaken to address the problem.

Table 7. Protected areas for wildlife conservation under the management of the Forest Department

Name of protected area

National category

IUCN category

Area (ha)

Year of notification

Bhawal

National park

V

5 022

1982

Himchan

National park

V

1 729

1980

Lawachara

National park

V

1 250

1996

Madhupur

National park

V

8 436

1982

Kaptai

National park

V

5 465

1999

Ramsagar

National park

Unassigned

52

1974

Nijhum Dwee

Wildlife sanctuary

Unassigned

16 352

2001

Chunati

Wildlife sanctuary

IV

7 764

1986

Pablakhali

Wildlife sanctuary

IV

42 087

1983

Rema-Kalenga

Wildlife sanctuary

IV

1 095

1981

Sundarbans East

Wildlife sanctuary

X

31 227

1996

Sundarbans South

Wildlife sanctuary

X

36 970

1996

Sundarbans West

Wildlife sanctuary

X

71 502

1996

Char Kukri Mukri

Wildlife sanctuary

Unassigned

40

1981

Hazarikhil

Wildlife sanctuary

Proposed

2 903

1967

Rampahar-Sitapahar

Wildlife sanctuary

Proposed

3 026

-

Hail Haor

Wildlife sanctuary

Proposed

1 427

1983

Teknaf

Game reserve

VII

11 615

1983

Total land area of the country-147 570 km2
Total forest area of the country-26 300 km2
Total area of PAs-2406 km2
Percent of PAs (on the basis of the area of the country)-1.63%
Percent of PAs (on the basis of the total forest area of the country)-9.14%.

ECOTOURISM: TOOLS FOR POVERTY ALLEVIATION

Ecotourism is a sustainable form of land use which contributes to environmental conservation while providing accrued socio-economic benefits to the indigenous people through the non-consumptive uses and indirect values of the natural biological resources. The goal of ecotourism is to promote an environmentally friendly business and to generate local income. In reality, ecotourism is an economically viable industry at the national and local levels.

The forest of Bangladesh is a peculiar type of ecosystem because of its interesting environmental conditions. It offers a wide range of outdoor recreational opportunities. These opportunities may include power boating, canoeing, fishing, collection of invertebrates like mollusks and crustaceans, picnicking, swimming, bird watching, wildlife observation, photography on wildlife, nature education and others.

Naturally, some forest areas can attract a large member of tourists and be a source of earnings through national and overseas tourism. In various countries, tourism in the forestry environment has been developed. It is important to note that the preservation of mangroves and some hill forests can be compatible to ecotourism if well planned. With this in view, the Bangladesh Forest Department can develop tourism facilities in mangrove and hill forest areas.

The strategy of the Forest Department’s tourism and recreation initiative will be to adopt a higher publicity profile, to strengthen its forest development efforts and to gain new constituencies in forest conservation. For instance, to develop Nijhum Dweep as a tourist spot the Forest Department will endeavour the following:

Unless the poor forest dwellers can increase their income, it is difficult to get their active support and involvement in forest and wildlife conservation. The income of the people can be improved through further development of ecotourism all over the country. The rich fauna and floral biodiversity and also beauty of nature like in the Dulhazara Safari Park will definitely attract local and foreign tourists.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anonymous. 1982. Forest resources of Bangladesh. Forest Department, Project UNDP/FAO.BDG/19/017.

Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. 1979, 1994, 1997 and 1998. Statistical yearbooks of Bangladesh. Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Planning.

Chaffey, D.R. & Sandom, S.H. 1985. Sundarbans Forest Inventory Project, Bangladesh. A glossary of vernacular plant names and a field key to the trees. UK Overseas Development Administration. 23 pp.

Das, D.K. 1990. List of Bangladesh village tree species. Chittagong, Bangladesh, Forest Research Institute. 11 pp. (mimeo)

Husain, K.Z. 1974. An introduction to the wildlife of Bangladesh. Dhaka, Book Promotion Press. 78 pp.

Husain, K.Z. 1992. Wildlife preservation in Bangladesh. Wildlife Newsletter, pp. 5-10. Wildlife Society of Bangladesh No. 4.

IUCN. 2000. Red list of threatened animals of Bangladesh. Bangladesh, IUCN, The World Conservation Union. 54 pp.

Kamaluddin, A.F.M. & Shamsuddin, S.D. 1977. Spatial distribution of forest species in Bangladesh and their exploitation and utilization. Proceedings of the Bangladesh First National Conference on Forestry, pp. 193-196. Dhaka, Bangladesh, Forest Department.

Khan, M.S. & Alam, M.K. 1996. Homestead flora of Bangladesh. Dhaka, Bangladesh, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC). 275 pp.

Rahman, M.M. 2002. Scientific report submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Bangladesh Secretariat, Dhaka. (unpublished)

Siddiqi, N.A. 2001. Mangrove forestry in Bangladesh. Chittagong, Bangladesh, Institute of Forestry & Environmental Science, University of Chittagong. 201 pp.

World Bank. 2000. World development report, 2000, 2001. New York, World Bank, Oxford University Press, Inc.


[27] Bangladesh Forest Research Institute, Chittagong, Bangladesh; E-mail: bfri@spnetctg.com
[28] The figure for the forest cover in Bangladesh appears to vary, depending on the source. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics has reported a figure of 12.7 percent for 1995 (Table 1), and the Forest Department a figure of 17.8 percent (Table 7).

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