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14 September, 2017 00:00 00 AM

Access to nature in achieving sustainable development

Available land is gradually decreasing because of rising land grabbers and unsustainable land practices
Polin Kumar Saha
Access to nature in achieving sustainable development

Enabling access of nature has become a concern for safe, healthy and meaningful life in the long run. Different studies say that, access to nature reduces our depression and obesity, and makes a life longer with multiple benefits justified on health, social or economic return. In our observations, diverse range of communities has no real understanding of access of nature in their surroundings, especially in a fast growing mega city like Dhaka. Towards the standard of sustainable cities, a city habitat requires sufficient natural areas to access of nature and return with a ‘meaningful’ benefit from a human-nature interaction. It is scientifically proved that this interaction is also very essential for cognitive development of children.
Unfortunately, the present state of our city forest and natural resources cannot give us a full phase of access of nature while the rural people is found with a comparative better access to the nature. Because of the high percentage of forest resources in the rural Bangladesh, the country’s villages are seen in a better position in access of nature. In general, availing access of nature requires more green spaces around us and it needs to be established with enough trees, community gardens, parks, ponds, lakes, or any other scenic greenways. Some of our artificial activities over the existing natural gifts (e.g. river, forest, hills etc.) may be integrated to extend more natural areas and improves the city health condition.
Implicit in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the outcome of the goals depend on each other where not a single goal can be achieved without an integrated approach of each other. For example, establishing natural park may improve the access of nature of sustainable cities (goal 11), but at the same time, such access of the more natural park would accelerate achieving our good health (goal 3) and climate action (goal 13). The integrated efforts and changes may influence our overall activities responding to the SDGs. Therefore, concerning with the integrating benefits of the SDGs, our development activities should be prioritized and guided by the policymakers and implementers.

In the context of our unplanned mega cities, we have reached at extreme vulnerable situation when we are realizing of our standard access of nature. Common people have very limited scope to breathe fresh air in the Dhaka city. Moreover, we have no opportunity to walk away in a forest, park, and river or lakeside. Even, we usually don’t get natural sunshade when we extremely suffer from the sunshine in summer season. We have very few footpaths to walk on, wherever these footpaths are hardly found free from dust, mud or hawkers!

To get rid of such unpleasant circumstances, we should develop a constructive plan between our development trend and the existing natural resources. In some cases, we have already started to conserve our natural resources (e.g. wetlands, trees, parks, islands, hills etc) by implementing the governmental environmental conservation rules, but the present situation is still alarming in that ways where our future nature harvesting should be in a sustainable manner. So, we presently need to go through an integration process between the SDG based targets and an orientation of our existing national sustainable development strategy (NSDS) with enough public feedback on forwarding.  

Government steps and measure of success: For our existence on this earth, growing up within our individual ownership is very important to avail the future sustainability interest. Being concerned and inspired by the nature, we should feel overwhelming for our natural city, town and the world. Bangladesh governmental priority is found visibly in finding some ways to protect the environment from our industrial environmental pollution only, but these are very insufficient initiatives across the country’s nature based conservation demand. Recently, some land-based beautification and waterways (e.g. Hatirjheel waterbus project in Dhaka) projects are appreciated in the community and neighborhood. Obviously, more initiatives like this nature based amusement will also be important to cut down our carbon footprint as it is considered as one of the climate actions in achieving the SDGs (goal 13).

Short term implementation strategy in access to nature: Reaching our SDG targets, we are required to plant plenty trees on our streets, public spaces and in our backyards which add more green space to the city dwellers. Our urban nature strategy may guide us under the following manner - 1. Maintenance existing park, open space and river/lakeside and free from the illegal holdings, 2. Minimize dust on the street through its regular maintenance and monitoring, 3. Collect city waste from every source points and manage it with 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) principles, 4. Keep water body from waste and pollutants, 5. Expand private property and road with tree plantation program, 5. Make a new inventory system for more trees on a city land, 6. Modernize tree plantation system, management plan, and best practices, 7. Plan for mature and healthy trees for enriching forest resources.

Mid to long term implementation strategy in access to nature: Apart of the short term strategies, some initiatives can be approached in a long duration of operations in our urban or rural biodiversity plan. We need a concrete and implementable biodiversity strategy to support our nature. Our national biodiversity strategy may come into force together with the urban unique natural resource strategy (forest, bird, species etc).

Basically, our new biodiversity strategy should elaborate an integral function of city’s natural areas, species and ecological processes which need to be restored and protected naturally. The biodiversity strategy describes in our SDGs aligned with a goal 15 where we must consider our nature to – 1. Restore vulnerable habitats in the current context where priority implementation goes to several natural resources such as forests, barren lands, wetlands, or any other ecological network, 2. Revolutionize the city corporation/town services to support biodiversity, and, 3. Celebrate biodiversity as a focal part of the city health.

However, we can maximize the achievements of SDGs through our nature based multidimensional actions by raising awareness of four selected conservation methods under the local natural resources - 1. Conserving local/own environment (e.g. increasing long grassy/flowers/tree areas on rooftop and surrounded place of households, not polluting land/air/water body by using natural pesticides, not cutting hill tracts, participating in cleanup of wastes in pond/lake/river/beach side, rainwater harvesting etc.), 2. Joining the collaborative efforts (e.g. developing partnerships with environmental activists or any other groups/individuals who are willing to work for nature, volunteering with an environmental organization, raising awareness of natural threatening through social media by using photos/videos/facts, create or sign a petition through online/media in response to a meticulous threat to the nature), 3. Reducing carbon footprint (e.g. conserving household water with shorter shower/innovative technologies, using less energy with energy saving technologies, using biodegradable products for cleaning/carrying, travelling with bicycle/green transportation, more walking, adopting solar/wind based heating /cooling system etc.), and 4. Consuming sustainable food (e.g. growing and eating more organic foods, promoting green manufacturing/processing of food, depending on local/seasonal food, buying products from the trusted retailers etc).

It is true we have many challenges in stepping forward with above mentioned strategies in order to access our nature. City dwellers have very limited land for many approaches of green spaces. Available land is gradually decreasing because of rising land grabbers or unsustainable land practices. On the other hand, population density and acquiring more private land are the factors in access of quality green spaces in the country. The government should handle the country’s land management strictly, so that the land proximity can be turned into a green revolution reaching the world standard nature in Bangladesh.

The writer is Senior Research Associate and Sustainability professional at BRAC Research and Evaluation Division


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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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