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tiger in the mangroves
Nairobi, Kenya

National Pledges and Implementation Needed to Protect the Sundarbans

The fourth meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework is underway in Nairobi, Kenya. The six-day meeting is being held from June 20-26, with the participation of representatives of 196 different countries and NGOs. The issue of Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest in the coastal saline environment of Bangladesh, came up at one of the press conferences launching the global meeting.

Basile van Havre, the co-chair of the Working Group, said it is important to protect mangrove forests like the Sundarbans, because the abundant wildlife there depends on the health of the forest ecosystem. It is also, he said, very important to protect the forest not only for wildlife but also for the benefit of human beings, who rely on it for fishing, farming, and many other uses. One of the keystone species in the Sunderbans is the tiger. At the first Tiger Conference in St. Petersburg in 2010, 13 countries, including Bangladesh, set a goal of doubling the number of tigers in their respective countries within 12 years. Of these, Nepal has doubled the number of tigers. India and Bhutan have also come close to doubling. But the number of tigers in Bangladesh has barely increased. In 2021, according to the Forest Department, the number of tigers in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh has increased from 106 to 114.

Mohsin-ul Hakim, a senior journalist and Sundarbans expert in Bangladesh, said it was true that the number of Royal Bengal Tigers had not increased. However, tiger and deer hunting has declined in the last two years. But the problem of the Sundarbans goes deeper. In order to catch more fish in a short time, the fishermen here pour poison into the water and catch fish in the canals of the Sundarbans. Many fish species are being lost as a result of this heinous act. Other animals and plants are being affected. But due to a lack of proper law and monitoring, the forest department is not able to take action against these fishermen.

Mohsin-ul Hakim further said that the forest department of Bangladesh is very weak. Due to a lack of resources, lack of manpower, and lack of logistics, they cannot properly manage the Sundarbans. He added that if the government does not provide financial assistance to the fishermen and residents dependent on the Sundarbans, or alternative employment not provided to them, they will be compelled to continue their destructive activities to sustain themselves, making it ever more difficult to protect the sensitive ecosystem. Another major problem of the Sundarbans is the rising salinity of its rivers and canals. Tigers, accustomed to drinking freshwater, often succumb to various diseases and die prematurely as a result of increasing salinity in the sea as well as various adversities in life in the Sundarbans.

Mr. Sharif Jamil the general secretary of the environmental NGO called Bangladesh Paribesh Bachao Andolan said that the government has not yet realized the importance of conserving the Sundarbans.  As a result, he said, the Sundarbans is still unprotected. On the contrary, the government is quite enterprising in implementing all kinds of projects to destroy the Sundarbans. Not just tigers, no animal life is safe there. Since there is no government initiative, he said, “we need to create a strong monitoring team ourselves.”

The government's commitment to protecting the Sundarbans and biodiversity came up at a press conference of the Open-Ended Working Group on Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. The new framework specifically addresses both the conservation and restoration of species and the effective management of human-wildlife interactions to prevent or reduce human-wildlife conflict.

Francis Ogwal, another co-chair of the Working Group, said the government of Bangladesh needs to focus on biodiversity as a key area. Most people think that no investment is required to protect nature, nature can protect itself, which is completely incorrect. Nothing will change without a commitment to protect biodiversity at the national level. According to a spokesman for the IUCN, an additional investment of 0.7-1% of annual global GDP will be needed to stop biodiversity loss by 2030 and to recover through the global biodiversity framework by 2050.

CBD Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema emphasized the same. She said there is no alternative but for governments to meet the targets of global biodiversity.

This story was produced as part of a reporting fellowship to the 2022 UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s 4th Meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, led by Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was originally published in Bangla on Jamuna TV on 24 June 2022 and has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Banner image: A tiger in the Sundarbans / Credit: Sagar via Flickr.