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All the trees are gone

  • Published at 11:39 pm November 30th, 2019
Dhaka
Photo: SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

Nature will save us if we let it

The Japanese -- who have taken the art of healthy living to such unimaginable heights -- have a practice known as forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. The exercise is quite simple: Immerse yourself in nature, be mindful of what is around you. 

This is a kind of preventative health care, and the rest of the world would do well to note the wisdom in it. It is not for no reason that the bulk of the world’s centenarian population is in Japan, and the country has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, which is still rising steadily. 

Many countries have made it a point to make sure they have enough trees. Seoul, an incredibly busy, heavily populated, highly urbanized city, has a forest area accessible to city dwellers by subway in need of some unwinding and quiet contemplation, and bustling Beijing has small garden spots throughout urban neighbourhoods, where children can skip rope, and the elderly can rest their legs.

This is not even to mention cities like Vancouver, Singapore, or any major metropolis in the Nordic countries, who fully realize the value of greenery, and do all their urban planning around it.

If we were smart, we would observe what they do, we would learn from them. We would learn that human beings cannot improve the standard of their living by destroying the nature around them, because in the end, we are all part of nature.

The reason forest bathing, or going camping, or hiking through the woods, or  just sitting on a park bench under the shade feeding birds is so relaxing, is that instinctively, biologically, we feel better when we feel connected to nature.

Before we all moved into high-rise apartments, and got chained down into office jobs, we had to learn to co-exist with nature.

But Bangladesh has forgotten all of that, and has cut down all the trees, polluted the air, and dumped poison into our rivers. Ironically, we celebrate poets who write about the beauty of nature, our literature obsesses over the passage of seasons, and our national anthem describes an idyllic land in harmony with nature. 

These things are completely alien to the average Dhaka-dweller. Our capital is one of the ugliest, noisiest, most soulless cities on the face of the Earth, and it is a city that has not only turned its back on nature, but has actively and consciously abused it.

If Dhaka is one of the least liveable cities in the world (it is), we have no one but ourselves to blame. Our city corporations have messed up royally, letting all kinds of disastrous urban constructions to take place.

Most of the city was never even planned, but grew in a completely ad hoc manner, and so now, even if the political will were there, doesn’t it seem like it’s too late to reverse the damage?

Recently, the foreign minister announced a new greening initiative. The promise is that starting next year, some 10 million new saplings will be planted across the nation. 

This would, in no small part, offset some of the damage done so far, and replenish the greenery of our country, but instead of just planting trees, and leaving it at that, we need to ensure some kind of balance between our rural, urban, and semi-urban areas, to make the whole country liveable.

More and more people crowding into Dhaka until our largest city and capital simply cannot withstand the pressure anymore is a phenomenon that must be addressed.

Certainly people have the right to come to the big city to seek greater opportunities, but those opportunities should be elsewhere as well. Balance: That is the thing Bangladesh is sorely lacking. So, can’t we work on it? Build facilities and create sufficient opportunities all over the country so that people aren’t so desperate to migrate to Dhaka, while taking greening and landscaping initiatives in the capital so that people can live here without suffocating.

It’s a tall order, but can’t we dream? 

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.