Once a lush green land of forests and vegetation, the wooded feature of Bangladesh has been steadily disappearing from the pressure created by the fast growing population of the country on forests and forest resources. The rule that a country needs to have at last 25 per cent of its area under forest cover for its environmental and economic security was long ago violated in the case of Bangladesh. The official figure of lands under forest is about 8 per cent in Bangladesh though unofficially even the same is doubted .
However, the policy of the government continues to favour afforestation. Thus, the rate of afforestation has gained a momentum, no doubt, from the policy. Government has been encouraging tree plantation with stepped up publicities in the mass media. Tree saplings are being planted all over the country in public places such as on the sides of highways and roads, coastal areas and government lands. Seeds and saplings are more available in government owned nurseries and also private ones. Some NGOs have been conducting programmes designed to facilitate tree planting and people in the rural areas seem to be inspired by them.
But there is also much worry about the total ultimate gains to accrue from afforestation measures in the absence of hard policies to put a hard brake on deforestation activities as well; the rate of deforestation is probably higher than the rate of afforestation. The speedier deforestation is the outcome of factors such as the inability to supply gas to all parts of the country. The non availability of a cheap and readily available fuel source has meant continued felling of trees to supply users in the brick kilns. During the course of violent agitation programmes by the BNP and Jaamat some years ago, thousands of trees were felled most unconscionably by them to block roads to enforce their so called anti-government movement regardless of the great destructive effects of the same on the country’s forest resources.
Firewood is also used extensively across the country for cooking. The furniture industry is a large scale user of timber. Thousands of trees are being cut down every week for their wood to supply the furniture industry and for boat making. Even the country’s reserved forest areas are not being spared from this plunder due to the corruption and lack of care on the part of some unscrupulous forest department employees. The government’s afforested areas also come under their attacks.
Therefore, the pressing need is to create conditions that would discourage the use of wood. First of all, coal must be ordered as the only legitimate fuel source for the brick kilns and a ban applied on the use of wood in the kilns. More importantly, the ban will have to be very scrupulously enforced. At the same time, coal from the Barapukuria coal mine should be supplied at low costs to the brick kiln operators. Restrictions may be imposed to reduce the use of timber in the furniture making industry.
Reduced duties on artificial materials and fittings for the furniture industry will contribute to this end and also steps to produce plastics and wood like products locally in support of the furniture industry and boat building activities. Guarding of the reserved forests and afforested areas must become serious activity on the part of the relevant ministry and it should take proper steps to ensure such guarding. Popularising extensively the use of solar power and biogas throughout the country will lead to less firewood being demanded for cooking and heating in the rural homesteads.
In sum, the goals of afforestation and the gains thereof can be realised only after implementation of policies that would substantially decelerate the rate of deforestation.