The forests play a crucial role in maintaining the delicate natural balance of Bangladesh, affected by climate change. These forests are protected by the Forest Department, but the organization has its own set of problems. This is the first instalment of a four-part series by the Dhaka Tribune’s Barguna correspondent Tariqul Islam
The forest guards of the coastal city of Barguna, working under the Forest Department of Bangladesh, are risking their lives in the line of duty by using dilapidated buildings as living quarters.
The abandoned buildings barely provide any shelter to the forest guards, and they have to use polyethylene to protect the rooms from rain and the scorching sun.
Barguna is home to a forest spanning 65,000 acres of land, full of majestic flora and fauna. The forest area is divided into bits, each bit protected by Forest Department officials and guards.
The living quarters are in dilapidated condition, putting the lives of the officials that use them at risk. They lack basic necessities such as potable water and shelter from rain.
Many of the buildings were abandoned years ago, but Forest Department officials told the Dhaka Tribune that these quarters will be repaired as soon as possible.
The Forest Department does not have its own office building or barracks in three of the six upazilas of Barguna- Bamna, Betagi, and Amtali. Daily activities of the department are carried out in rented buildings. Forest guards also live in rented residences.
The department has 30 buildings in the other three upazilas- sadar, Patharghata, and Taltali, and 24 of them are abandoned and in dilapidated condition. Some of these barracks do not have drinkable water supply.
Forest Officer MD Belayet Hossain, posted in Haringhata bit of Patharghata, told the correspondent: “One of the buildings is in good condition, but the other two are death traps.
“The corrugated tin sheet roof has numerous punctures and walls have lost plasters. These buildings are not fit for accommodation.”
Md Yunus Ali Hawladar, a forest guard posted in Charduyani, said: “Cyclone Sidr destroyed our living quarters in 2007. New barracks were not built after the storm. We have been living here under inhumane conditions since then.”
Echoing the same view, acting official of the Char Lathi Mara bit of Patharghata, Md Bodiuzzaman Khan, said: “Two old buildings are damaged beyond repair. Four-five forest guards and I myself are presently living in an abandoned building by covering the roof with polythene.”
The Forest Department barracks situated in Barguna Sadar and Taltali Upazilas are suffering from the same conditions.
Visiting the range officer’s office in Barguna, the correspondent found that the building was abandoned long ago. The walls show cracks, and the doors are broken.
The office in-charge MD Motiar Rahman said: “The range officer’s office was abandoned quite some time ago. Accommodation for other officials does not meet the safety standards either.
“Some forest officials could find accommodations for rent in their bit areas, so they repaired damaged tin-roofed buildings at their own expense. But, even after repair, the buildings remained risky.”
Charduyani bit official Md Rafiqul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune: “I urge the government to provide us with proper accommodation, so that we could sleep a bit safely after a hard day of work.”
Divisional Forest Officer Mohammad Aminul Islam, in charge of Patuakhali and Barguna region, told the correspondent: “The salinity prevalent in the coastal region has damaged the Forest Department buildings.
“We have informed authorities concerned to construct new buildings for the use of the department. Under different projects, new accommodation will be built for the officials and guards.”
The Forest Department officials, who are tasked with protecting thousands of acres of forest in Barguna, hope the government will take steps to build proper barracks for them.