Thursday, June 13, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Sundarbans in peril: Frequent forest fires fuel threats to biodiversity

  • 32 fire incidents in 22 years
  • Approximately 90 acres scorched
  • Probe body recommendations ignored
Update : 05 May 2024, 10:18 PM

In the past 22 years, the Sundarbans East Forest Division has faced 32 fire incidents, with investigations routinely launched afterward.

Yet, the crucial recommendations made by these investigation committees to prevent future fires have often gone unheeded. On Saturday, another fire erupted in the Amurbunia area of the Chandpai range.

Over the years, several key recommendations have emerged from these inquiry reports like the dredging of rivers and canals merging with Sundarbans adjacent areas, the construction of watch towers every two kilometers in fire-prone zones, and the installation of fencing with barbed wire or nylon rope nets along the forest edge near the Bhola River in the Chandpai range.

Mihir Kumar Doe, forest conservator for Sundarbans region, has said that efforts to implement these recommendations under the tiger conservation project are underway.

He emphasized that once completed, these measures will yield tangible benefits.

The toll on Sundarbans' forest area has been significant, with approximately 90 acres scorched across 32 incidents in 22 years.

Notable among these are incidents like the burning of one acre in the Sharankhola range at Cuttack in March 2002, followed by three acres near Nangli camp in the Chandpai range in March 2004.

A devastating blaze occurred in December 2004, where the forest was engulfed in flames in the Aruabed area.

On February 8, 2021, forest land in the Dansagar patrol post area was burnt. The pattern continued with several more fires, each leaving its mark of destruction.

Despite the formation of inquiry committees after each fire, aimed at determining the cause, assessing damage, and proposing preventive measures, tangible actions based on these reports have been lacking. The repercussions of this negligence extend beyond mere fires, as wildlife and fisheries suffer, threatening the very existence of the Sundarbans.

The Sundarbans, renowned as the nation's vital oxygen source and hailed as the "lungs" of the country, now teeters on the brink of existence.

Once spanning twice its current size in the 18th century, the Bangladesh segment of the Sundarbans now encompasses 6,017 square kilometers, constituting 51% of the country's protected forest land.

Despite stringent measures such as the Forest Department's imposition of a red alert and the prohibition of tourist, fisherman, and forester entry from March 26 to November 5 during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Sundarbans' biodiversity remains imperiled.

What authorities say

Sheikh Faridul Islam, chairman of the Save the Sundarbans Foundation, said in order to protect the Sundarbans from fire, the forest guards should be more vigilant to prevent criminal activities.

He also demanded action against dishonest forest officials.

Kazi Md Nurul Kabir, divisional forest officer (DFO) of Sundarbans East Forest Division, said the cigarettes of the foresters entering the Sundarbans often catch fire. “That is why we are running awareness campaigns among foresters and locals. The watch tower is being built as per the recommendations of the inquiry committee. In recent times, besides killing tigers, deer, all kinds of guards have been strengthened, including smart patrolling based on latest technology to protect the Sundarbans from poaching and arson in canals.

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