10.1 Introduction

10.1.1 The Constitution of Bangladesh asserts that ‘it shall be a fundamental responsibility of the state to attain, through planned economic growth, a constant increase of productive forces and a steady improvement in the material and cultural standard of living of the people’(Article-15). In pursuit of this goal of prosperity of the people through planned development, the individual and the society come to interact with the environment and have to take care of it, lest not to speak of global warming, excessive use of natural resources like land, water and forest turn this land into a ‘dust bowl’ with ‘individuals scratching a living like a scrawny hen’.

10.1.2 With the awareness of the above potential threat, Bangladesh has so far signed, ratified and acceded to 22 international conventions, treaties and protocols related to environment. The important ones, among them, signed at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, are the Agenda 21, Climate Change Convention and Biodiversity Convention. The Agenda 21 is a basis to attain sustainable development through policies initiated and co-ordinated at the national level. The second phase of the Bangladesh National Conservancy Strategy (BNCS), the Forestry Master Plan and the National Environment Management Action Plan (NEMAP) all reiterate Bangladesh’s commitment to implement the international conventions and treaties signed from time to time.

10.1.3 As a signatory of these international and regional treaties/conventions/protocols, and in fulfilling the constitutional obligation, further efforts will be continued to chart the course to prosperity ensuring that no irreparable damage is inflicted on the environment and prosperity is sustained in the long run.

10.2 Major Environmental Issues in Bangladesh

10.2.1 Environment, as per the Environment Protection Act, 1995 includes water, air, land and physical properties and the inter-relationships which exist among and between them and human beings, other living creatures, plants and micro-organisms. The environment is thus the sum total of all social, physical, biological and ecological factors. Social environment is centred round human beings. It is their institutions, group behaviour, habitation and interaction in production and consumption of their wealth. The human activities entail using natural resources and interfering with natural environment, increasingly with the increase in growth. Environmental concerns have, therefore, assumed vital importance. It is now widely accepted that there must be an integrated approach between environment and development. As such, there is a need for integration of environment into development planning and activities. Environment is where we live and development is what we all do in attempting to improve our standard of living. Bangladesh has many environmental problems, natural or man-made, such as frequent natural disasters, industrial pollution, poor health and sanitation, deforestation, desertification, changes in climatic conditions, salinity, deteriorating habitat of flora and fauna, etc. which we have to face, solve or compensate for.


10.2.2 Agricultural resource base : The vast majority of the population depend on agricultural and natural resources for a large part of their food and income. Thus, a more dynamic agricultural sector, better use of natural resources and increased concern for environment are essential. No growth or poverty alleviation strategy can bring success without a healthy agricultural sector. Land and water are the two natural resources for agricultural development. One of the difficult strategic issues is how to allocate limited supplies of water to its uses for agriculture, salinity control, fisheries, navigation and a growing urban population for sustained development. There is also competing demand on land from non-agricultural uses of land. As a result, agricultural resources in Bangladesh are already under severe pressure and environmental strain. It is essential to reverse this trend and rebuild, and where possible, augment the productive capability of scarce and essential agricultural resource base. To produce enough food for an increasing population, it is necessary to maximise the benefits that can be derived from the existing technologies and to maintain the sustainability of the food production system beyond the medium term of the Fifth Plan, it is essential that Bangladesh continues to make all out efforts to bring about a major breakthrough in agricultural technology.


10.2.3 Biodiversity : In making a breakthrough in agricultural technology, it is necessary to preserve the variety of life, i.e. biodeversity. The preservation of biodiversity is both a matter of insurance and investment, necessary to sustain and improve agriculture, forestry, livestock and fisheries production systems in order to keep future options open as a buffer against harmful environmental changes and as a raw material for scientific and industrial innovations. Moreover, we must conserve biodiversity as a matter of survival. The variety of life helps make the earth fit for balanced enjoyment of life. It plays an important role in all major life-support services, from maintaining the chemical balance of the earth and stabilising climate to protecting the watershed and renewing soil. Maintaining a nation’s biodiversity is integral to maintaining its wealth. The Plan, therefore, attaches due weight to the development of our biological resources. The importance of species and ecosystems will be considered in the formulation of development policies and programmes. Institutions assigned responsibility for conserving biodiversity will be supported by necessary financial and organisational resources. The species and ecosystems on which our survival depends will be clearly identified and appropriate technology applied to make our survival worthy of human beings.


10.2.4 Biomass: In Bangladesh, especially in the rural areas, where about 80 per cent of people live, biomass plays an important and complex role. The problem is not merely the supply of wood or of fuel or of food. These products are linked by competition for land and by different product’s end uses that may compete with, or complement one another. Thus shortage of any form of biomass will affect the quantity and composition of different end-uses. At the moment, there is an acute crisis of biomass fuel, which constitutes 73 per cent of total energy consumed. The per capita supply of biomass fuel is declining. There is an increased use of crop residues and dung as fuel which is depriving soil of valuable nutrient and organic matter.


10.2.5 Impact of chemicals : Modernisation of agriculture has led to an extensive use of fertilisers and pesticides. Although production of foodgrain and other crops has increased significantly by the use of fertilisers and pesticides, quality of land has suffered due to indiscriminate use of chemicals. Farmers spraying pesticides and using fertilisers, in many cases, are suffering from heart and skin diseases. Cows, goats and other domestic animals eating fertiliser-fed and pesticides-affected grasses are also suffering from diseases. Fish population in the rivers and other water bodies have drastically decreased due to water pollution by chemicals including fertilisers and pesticides.


10.2.6 Industrial pollution: The growth of industries in the country has generally been unplanned without keeping the issue of environmental protection in careful consideration. There are many industries in the residential areas causing air and water pollution through smoke emission and dumping of untreated effluent. Industrial wastes have polluted the water of the Buriganga, the Shitalakhya, the Karnafuli and the Rupsha rivers. Effluents from tanneries are extremely harmful to human beings since they contain high concentration of chromium compounds. About 250 tanneries in Hazaribagh area within the Dhaka city are causing serious environmental pollution and health hazard making the area unsuitable for human habitation.


10.2.7 Deforestation: Bangladesh has a classified natural forest area of around 6-8 per cent of the total land area which is far below the desired level. According to a study, 50 per cent of destruction of forests took place during the last 20 years affecting top soil and causing land erosion. Such deforestation could not yet be compensated by social forestry and backyard plantations.


10.2.8 Wetland and fisheries: Bangladesh has a high proportion of wetland area, which has, of late, been declining. Rivers, canals, beels, lakes and haors are the open wetlands while baors, dighis, ponds and ditches constitute the closed ones. They are significant sources of sweet water fishes. The decline in fish production has been attributed to a general deterioration of the wetlands, characterised by silting up of bed levels, water logging as well as water pollution.


10.2.9 Mangrove ecosystem: The Sundarbans, located in the south-western part of Bangladesh is the largest single expanse of mangrove forest in the world. It is a dynamic, fragile and complex ecosystem in delicate balance with land and water. It is a good habitat for offshore fisheries and onshore shrimp cultivation, a natural coastal protection, a highly valuable forest resource and a recreational resort. But a gradual degradation of environment in the Sundarbans has been taking place due to rapid deforestation, top-drying, saline water intrusion, killing of wild lives, inadequate reforestation and lack of efficient conservation programmes.


10.2.10 Coastal and marine water: Disposal of chemical fertilisers, insecticides and industrial effluent into water are leading to a severe pollution of the coastal and marine environment. Rare species living in these areas will disappear if they are not preserved.


10.2.11 Salinity: Diversion of the Ganges water has thus far drastically reduced the down stream flow of its distributaries. Consequently, saline sea water entered into the mainland rivers. It has adverse effects on agriculture and sweet-water shrimp cultivation and also on availability of sweet water for domestic and other uses. Following signing of the long term treaty on sharing of water of the Ganges with India on December 12,1996, there has been an improved inflow of water down the Ganges in Bangladesh. This seems to be having an improving effect, which needs to be further improved through building a barrage across the Ganges.