The year 1972 marked a turning point in the development of international environmental politics: The first major conference on environmental issues, convened under the auspices of the United Nations, was held from June 5-16 in Stockholm (Sweden).
Known as the Conference on the Human Environment, or the Stockholm Conference, its goal was to forge a basic common outlook on how to address the challenge of preserving and enhancing the human environment.
Later that year, on December 15,1972, the General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/RES/2994, XXVII) designating June 5 as World Environment Day and urging “governments and the organisations in the United Nations system to undertake world-wide activities reaffirming their concern for the preservation and enhancement of the environment on that day every year, with a view to deepening environmental awareness and to pursuing the determination expressed at the conference.”
The date coincides with the first day of the Landmark Conference. World Environment Day embraces smaller and less-developed nations while tackling even bigger topics.
Since its beginning in 1974, World Environment Day has developed into a global platform for raising awareness and acting on urgent issues from marine pollution and global warming to sustainable consumption and wildlife crime.
Millions of people have taken part over the years, helping drive change in our consumption habits as well as in national and international environmental policy.
This year, the theme of World Environment Day is “Connecting People to Nature,” encourages all to go outdoors and into nature, to appreciate its beauty and its importance, and to take forward the call to protect the earth that we share.
It is a huge and crossing theme reflecting the contribution of this connection to the development of environmental protection, environmental awareness, and a sense of responsibility towards the environment and nature.
Nature is a unique feature of our planet, a symbol of life, part of our environment, economy, society, culture, and traditions of indigenous and other forest dependent peoples. Nature provide oxygen for life support, provide livelihood support to billions of people, provide us with a renewable source of energy, water for life, are home to many rare and endemic species of plants and wildlife, help mitigate climate change, protect the soil, purify the water and maintain ecosystem in balance, evoke emotions or inspire artists.
The theme is especially relevant to Bangladesh where a vast portion of the population remains heavily dependent on natural resources for their sustenance and livelihood. We are not only getting natural resources from our nature but also pure air, water, shelter for our survival.
For many of us, still remember the khal
passing through our village, where we splashed in as a child on hot summer days, the storks we watched, enthralled, the wildflower we held in our hand, the fluttering butterfly that entertained us -- so impossibly complex and in delicate balance.
For many of us, that moment of connection was when we first started to understand the endless delight of nature and the importance of preserving it for future generations.
The nature provided us the diversity of indigenous plants, animal, and fish species -- the genetic stock that is irreplaceable. Local vegetables like potatoes and brinjals have innumerable indigenous varieties.
The need for diverse crops was tragically made apparent during the recent flash floods in Haor areas. People in these wetland areas traditionally grew crops that were flood resistant in the sense that their rate of stem elongation exceeded the rising flood water levels.
To meet increasing demand for growing population and ensure food security, we introduced high yielding varieties of crops, rice, and fishes. To grow more food with small pieces of lands and ponds, we used more chemical fertilizer and pesticides and used more intensive aquaculture practices. Throughout these process, we lost many of the indigenous varieties of crops, rice, and fishes from our Haors and floodplain areas.
Still indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts areas meet their daily demands from the nature through shifting cultivation (Jhum). They grow rice, vegetables (gourd), fruits (banana), cooking oil, cotton (for clothes), spices (turmeric), condiments, medicinal plants, etc. They only purchase salt from the local open market. This is how a “Jhum family” solely depends upon nature for their survival.
Natural resources and ecosystem goods and services contribute significantly to Bangladesh’s economy.
The people of Bangladesh depend on natural goods and services for their day-to-day sustenance as well as the overall security of their livelihoods. The primary sectors (crops, livestock, fisheries, forestry, and mineral resources) depend on the environment and natural resources (land, water, and soil) and contribute substantially to national GDP. Around 80% of the total population depends, to some extent, upon the utilisation of natural resources or the processing of resulting products.
The largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, provides livelihood and employment for half a million poor households. The wetland system (including haors, baors, beels, and floodplain) provides a wide range of economic and non-economic benefits to local people, including fish and rice production; rearing of cattle, buffalo, and ducks; and collection of vegetables, reeds, grasses, and other plants.
Not only wetland and fisheries resources provide livelihood support for the millions of poor, forests also play a significant role in poverty reduction. For instance, forests meet the demand for bamboo, timber, medicinal plants, fuel wood, and other non-timber forest products among many indigenous people living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
In the Sundarbans, the traditional resource users are the indigenous -- Munda community and the local bawali
(wood and golpata
(honey collectors), and jeley
(fisher folk) communities. Their livelihoods are largely dependent on the collection and processing of those forest products.
Due to intensive agriculture and aquaculture several popular small fish species with high economic value are no longer available today in our nature. Indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides drive species closer to extinction.
In Bangladesh today, as many as 390 species have been classified as “threatened.” Among these, 56 are Critically Endangered (CR), 181 are Endangered (EN), 153 are Vulnerable (VU) and sadly, 31 species have been classified as Regionally Extinct (RE). The assessment also listed 278 species as “Data Deficient” -- which indicates an inadequacy of available information to make a direct, or indirect, assessment on these species.
Our hill forests in CHT, Chittagong, Sylhet, Cox’s Bazar, and Sal forests in the Madhupur areas are degrading with an alarming rate. We should consider for a conservative approach to make a balance between rapid infrastructure based development, urbanisation, and conservation of scarce natural resources since restoration of degraded ecosystem take longer periods and sometime are too expensive and sometimes bringing back an ecosystem to its original form is irreversible.
We should also consider to restore urban forests and biodiversity to ensure breathing space for urban citizen and for the urban wildlife. We should strictly ban use of fuel wood in brick making industries and burning of bitumen for road constructions. For this, we need to discuss with all relevant stakeholders and work in close coordination with other relevant ministries. We should also engage private and corporate sector for conservation of natural resources.
Firstly, to conserve the nature there should be a delicate balance between development and conservation. The relevant ministries, line agencies, private sectors, academia, and NGOs should work together in a well-coordinated manner to conserve our scarce and valuable natural resources. The policies, regulatory frameworks, and action plan should be aligned and harmonised to address the rapid pace of the degradation of natural resources.
Secondly, we should correctly estimate value of the ecosystem goods and services (both use and non-use value) of our natural resources and it should be properly reflected in our national accounting system and GDP contribution.
Thirdly, there should be massive awareness campaign and capacity building program in all levels to understand the value of nature and biodiversity and role of conservation for our existence in this planet.
Fourthly, we should allocate considerable portion of national revenue budget to conserve our remaining and valuable natural resources. Private sector can also play a significant role and support conservation of our natural resources through public private partnership and through corporate social responsibility.
Arif M. Faisal, A S Muniruzzaman Khan and Mayeesha Azhar are working in UNDP Bangladesh.