The services Bangladesh gets from the Sundarbans every year can be translated to over Tk5,456 crores in terms of monetary value, a study says.
The mangrove forest contributes Tk414 crores to the economy through tourism; Tk3,881 crores by shielding the coastal area against natural calamities; and Tk1,161 crores by providing livelihoods to local communities.
However, the researchers noted that the actual amount was much higher.
The figures were revealed in a study conducted by Chittagong University’s Institute of Forestry and Environmental Sciences between 2015 and 2016 with technical and financial assistance from Winrock International, USAID and John D Rockefeller Foundation. Wildlife biologist AHM Raihan Sarker, environmental economist M Nur Nobi, and Geographic Information Science analyst Emran Hassan carried out the study.
Sundarbans, with its unique ecosystem and is rich biodiversity, attracts thousands of tourists every year. It covers 6,017 square kilometres on Bangladesh’s side.
But the study found that 87.6% of the tourists were Bangladeshis. More than 80% of the tourists criticised the poor management.
The direct economic contribution from tourism comes in the form of entry fees from visitors and their spending on food, travelling and accommodation.
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Fishermen on a boat in the Sundarbans Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
The survey recommended, among others, to devise a comprehensive ecotourism plan, limiting the number of tourists, preventing infrastructural development projects for residential purposes inside the forest, which also serves as a shield against natural calamities.
Over the last 100 years, as many as 508 cyclones have lashed the bay and 17% of them made landfall, data show.
“The dense vegetation of a mangrove forest can significantly limit the risks and severity of wind damage and reduce swelled waves,” the study said. “So, the protection value of such a forest is very high.”
Cyclone Sidr, which hit Bangladesh in November 2007, killed 3,406 people and severely injured 55,282 others. It caused damage worth $1.67 billion and affected livelihoods of 8.9 million people.
Sidr’s devastation could have been worse if it was not for the Sundarbans. The researchers recommended planting more trees in the forest.
Sundarbans is also a source of livelihood for thousands of people in the coastal districts of Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira. The residents also receive 22 types of services from the forest.
Food and Agriculture Organization said that around 3.5 million people directly or indirectly depend on Sundarbans for timber and non-timber resources.
Demands for honey, wax, Golpata, fish, shrimps, crabs and firewood are especially high but the collection of fuel wood and shrimp fry have been banned for the last 20 years.
Continuous and thoughtless procurement of natural resources threatened to cause irreparable damage to Sundarbans’ ecosystem, the study noted.
Dr Raihan, the lead researcher, said it was not possible to put a price tag on the services provided by the forest.
“Services provided by Sundarbans, in terms of its monetary contribution, were not ascertained precisely,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
“The overall contribution of Sundarbans to the country’s economy was always given short shrift,” Raihan said. “The study focused on a few selected services of the forest due to fund and time constraints.”
Nur Nobi, the principal researcher, said the estimated figure was low.
“The actual economic value of the Sundarbans is much higher,” he said. “The survey will help policymakers adopt pragmatic initiative for the conservation of the forest.”
Economist Prof Anu Muhammad said the government should take more initiatives to protect Sundarbans.
“The study focused on the forest’s visible aspects,” he said. “But there are many aspects that cannot be measured in monetary terms.”