Forests play a crucial role in maintaining the delicate natural balance of Bangladesh. These forests are protected by the Forest Department, but the organization has its own set of problems. This is the second instalment of a four-part series by Dhaka Tribune’s Barguna correspondent Tariqul Islam
Barguna district has about 65,000 acres of forestland. This vast amount of land does not have nearly enough personnel to maintain and protect it. The forest guards enter the forest in the early hours of each morning, and return after sundown, and still fail to patrol the entire area.
The Forest Department has about half the manpower necessary to maintain and protect the forestlands. Current members of the department are working twice as hard, but they are in dire need of more help and equipment.
There is also a lack of fast communication as well as equipments, such as trawlers. Often the forest guards have to swim to get inside or to other parts of the forest.
The officials are demanding an increase in manpower as soon as possible for the sake of protecting and maintaining the forests.
According to information provided by Patuakhali and Barguna Forest Departments, their human resources should consist of a total 450 people, but only 303 people are working in the field and offices right now. Patuakhali and Barguna have a combined 147 posts empty. The Forest Department is unable to provide adequate support in protecting the forests.
Barguna district is supposed to have 150 members on its human resources team, but have only 95 members altogether. About 55 posts are empty. Each official and worker has to struggle due to the acute lack in staffing.
Barguna Sadar Upazila’s Babuganj Forest bit has about 4,000 acres of forestland including reserves. It has at least 10 people for maintenance, but has only two working the area. Most of the areas are left unprotected.
Similarly, the Patharghata Upazila of Barguna has 9,000 acres of forestland and only 28 people are working to maintain and guard that area.
Md Motiar Rahman, a forest guard posted in Patharghata Upazila’s Charlathimara forest, said: “Every morning, I enter the forest by swimming across four canals. When I return in the evening after performing my duties, I have to swim across four canals once again.
“If we had enough manpower, we could divide the work and take away the extra pressure.”
Md Belayet Hosssain, officer of Forest Department’s Haringhata bit under Patharghata Upazila, said: “We are suffering from lack of manpower in every forest. In the Haringhata Ecotourism Park, we need at least two people working dedicatedly to collect the government revenue every day.
“Other than that, we need at least 10 people to maintain this vast forestland. But we have only seven people including myself. We have a trawler here, but no one to steer and manage it. Hence it is left unused.”
The local forest workers also said they need a forest ranger to properly run operations.
Md Zahid Pramanik, officer of Forest Department’s Tengragiri bit under Taltali Upazila said: “The forest reserve of Tengragiri constitutes 14,000 acres of land. We had 12-14 people working the area before. Now we have only eight, including myself.”
Forest guards cannot perform rounds of the whole forest with the lack of personnel. People are illegally chopping trees and branches from the reserves as there is no one to guard and protect large parts of the forest.
Forest Officer Md Aminul Islam said: “We have quite a few posts empty. We have officially written to the higher authorities. We have outlined our problems clearly to them. Hopefully the issue will be resolved soon.”