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22 May, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Biodiversity: Challenge and policy recommendations

Biodiversity makes a significant contribution to the country’s economy in terms of agriculture, fishery, livestock, forestry and nature-based tourism
Arif M. Faisal
Biodiversity: Challenge and policy 

Biodiversity underpins a wide range of ecosystem services that human societies are dependent on for their very survival and development. Due to its geographic location and climatic conditions Bangladesh is gifted with a wide variety of ecosystems, plants and animals. Until now 5,700 species of angiosperm, more than 3,000 species of lower group plants, 128 species of mammals, 650 species of birds, 154 species of reptiles, 49 species of amphibians and 742 species of fishes (of which 475 species are marine fishes) have been recorded from the country. Although many wild species (e.g. one horned rhino, swamp deer, marsh crocodile, etc.) has already been extinct from our ecosystem forever, the country still supports a rich agricultural biodiversity and genetic variability. The Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute and five other crop research centres maintain more than 20,000 accessions of agricultural and horticultural crops. Being a high population density country, the above-mentioned diversity of life forms can be considered as ‘miracle’ and ‘satisfactory’.

Biodiversity makes a significant contribution to the country’s economy in terms of agriculture, fishery, livestock, forestry and nature-based tourism. The combined contribution of these five sectors to the country’s GDP is nearly 25per cent. The largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, provides livelihood and employment for half a million households. More than 60 million people depend on aquatic resources every day, and 60per cent of the country’s protein requirement is met through fish consumption. The wetland ecosystem (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 reeds, grasses, and other plants. A study on the economic valuation of Hakaluki haor (the largest haor in Bangladesh) reported that more than 80per cent of local households depend on wetland biodiversity resources, and that the bulk of income-earning and livelihood opportunities in that area were based on wetlands. Nature based tourism is becoming popular in Bangladesh and numbers of visitors and tourists are increasing day by day in the popular nature based tourism destination in the country. A considerable number of livelihoods in Cox’s Bazar, St. Martin’s Island, the Chattogram Hill Tracts, the Sundarbans, and other protected areas of the country depend upon nature-based tourism. How much revenue is earned from nature based tourism is not properly accounted yet in the country.

Bangladesh has signed or ratified all major biodiversity related Multilateral Environmental Agreements, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). In fulfilment of obligations of CBD Bangladesh has formulated 1st National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan(NBSAP) in 2006 and 2nd NBSAP (2016-2021) in 2015 to guide biodiversity conservation efforts. The 2nd generation NBSAP included 50 activities under the 20 targets for biodiversity conservation in line with global Aichi Biodiversity Target. The country has also formulated policies and legal frameworks relating to environment and biodiversity, notable among them are: National Conservation Strategy (2016-2031), Bangladesh Biodiversity Act 2017, Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act, 2012, Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety 2004, National Biosafety Framework 2006, National Forest Policy 2016(draft), Ecologically Critical Areas (ECA) Rules 2017, etc. The Vision 2021, National Sustainable Development Strategy and the Seventh Five-Year Plan of the country have unambiguously highlighted the biodiversity conservation concerns. In 2011 government included biodiversity in the ‘Constitution’ (Para 18A) as fundamental principles of our state governance.

Beside the above policy measures, the country also translated some of the policy recommendations into actions especially in the recent decades. Many biodiversity and ecologically rich areas has been declared as National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, ECA, Eco-Parks, Safari Parks, Fish Sanctuaries and Botanical Gardens by the laws to give special attention for its protection. Starting from 1980 Bangladesh has designated a total of 52 such protected sites including 38 terrestrial protected areas (PAs) and 2 marine protected areas (MPAs) with the aim to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem. These PAs cover 1.80per cent of land and 2.05per cent of marine area of the country respectively. Other 13 areas totalling to 384,529 ha. or about 2.60 percent of the total area of the country have been declared as ECAs as they support significant ecosystems that have become threatened. Hilsa production has considerably increased in the recent time due to declaration of 5 sanctuaries to protect Hilsa breeding ground and ban on Hilsa catching during breeding season.

Bangladesh has made good progress in some areas by implementing a good number of conservation projects (e.g. Nishorgo, IPAC, CWBMP, CBA-ECA, SBCP, CREL, SEALS, etc.) etc. All these projects piloted innovative people oriented conservation models and good practices that includes, co-management approach, community based natural resource management, co-management guideline for PAs, ban on harvesting of natural resources in breeding season, restoration of critically degraded ecosystem, declaration of sanctuary and PA in biodiversity rich areas, promotion of eco-tourism, community based biodiversity conservation, village conservation groups, community conserved areas etc.

Over the last few decades biodiversity of Bangladesh has been experiencing a substantial decline mainly due to human induced impacts and affecting human well-being. A number of governmental and non-governmental initiatives have been taken, including development a number of enabling plans and policies to address the issues concerning conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. However, the country is yet to make a mentionable progress in halting biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. The country achievement on biodiversity is assessed in 5th National Report which has reported overall low to moderate progress towards achieving Aichi target.

In Bangladesh, major threats to biodiversity includes rapid and unplanned urbanization and industrialization, conversion of forests and wetlands into agriculture or other form of land use, population pressure over scarce natural resources, unsustainable use and over exploitation of natural resources, changes of land use pattern and fragmentation of habitat, air and water pollution, changes in hydrological regime, over-harvesting of natural resources, growing demand for producing more food crop using HYV with over use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, allocation of biodiversity rich areas or natural forests for development intervention, uncontrolled tourism in biodiversity rich areas (e.g. in CHTs, Cox’s Bazar and St. Martin Island), climate change, alien invasive species, etc.

Major challenges for biodiversity conservation are limited awareness of policy makers on the value of biodiversity in national economy, non-compliance or minimum compliance of environmental safeguards in development projects, revenue driven land use practices, limited success in ensuring good environmental governance, limited inter-sector coordination and harmonization in sectoral policies, absence of market based tools (e.g. polluter pay principles, green tax, etc.) for destruction and degradation of ecosystems, underutilization of local government capacity, limited private sector participation, inequality in ownership and benefit sharing from the use of biological resources, low level of knowledge, capacities and awareness, inadequate financing, etc. Huge population pressure with an increasing demand of natural resources is one of the main driving forces for most of the above stated threats.

There should be a delicate balance between development and conservation. In many case our development gain has been eaten by the negative impact of ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss. It is current tendency that our aspiration towards achievement of rapid economic growth with the cost of degrading and damaging ecosystem. A burning example is that adequate coastal forests areas has already been allocated for construction of exclusive economic zone in Mirsarai at Chittagong or reserved forest is allocated for LNG terminal in Sonadia at Cox’s Bazar or nearly 5,800 ha. of reserved forests have been allocated for Rohingya settlement in Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf forest lands. Nearly 190 industries are operating within the 10-km wide peripheral area of the Sundarbans which has also been declared as an ECA. Many of these industries have been issued governmental clearance and 24 of the industries are of red category. We should be a bit cautious for this type of development intervention. A robust environmental impact assessment with adequate environmental safeguards mechanism is required for such development decision to ensure sustainable development. Development should not be allowed with the cost of degrading ecosystems.

We do not know the economic and non-economic values of all the protected sites in the country, although there is some sporadic assessment of the value of some protected sites (e.g. Hakaluki Haor, Sundarbans, etc.). Therefore, valuation of the ecosystem goods and services of all ecosystems will be required to reflect it in national environmental accounting system and assess its contribution to national GDP. It is urgently required to analysis of public and private expenditures on biodiversity conservation. It is essential to estimates the investment required to implement national biodiversity plans and achieve national biodiversity targets and results. Many countries have taken such initiative in the recent time through participating in global BIOFIN project. Biodiversity conservation or ecosystem restoration takes longer time and hence its required longer-term and sustainable finance to see the impacts.

It is widely recognized that government allocation for the ADP for the conservation is very low compared with other development sectors. The country investment plan (CIP:2017-2021) for environment, forestry and climate change estimated that an amount of US$2.46 billion will be required for sustainable natural resource management and biodiversity conservation. The current support is about US$642.3 million and there are substantial financing gaps of US$1.8 billion. Still there is no big investment project in this area. However, it is encouraging news that Government is currently formulating two big investment projects, one is Sustainable Forest and Livelihood (SUFAL) Project with a budget of US$175 million and another is Protection of Sundarbans Mangrove Forests (SURAKSHA) project with a budget of about US$95 million. Development partners should also come forward for supporting investment in biodiversity conservation.

Private sector involvement in biodiversity conservation in Bangladesh is still at infant stage. The main barrier to private sector participation in biodiversity conservation are low level of awareness and the limited capacity of business community, inadequate incentive, government support, or motivation. Most of the commercial banks in Bangladesh depend on short-term deposits, and an asset–liability mismatch limits their ability and willingness to structure financial products with the longer tenure typically required for investment in ecosystem restoration or conservation. By adopting the ‘polluter pays principle’ or levying a ‘green tax’ on polluting industries, the government can generate funds that can be used for conservation. Revenue earned from ecotourism services (e.g., visits to the protected sites) could be used to manage protected areas. Corporate sectors may also come forward with biodiversity friendly and environmentally responsible business. Public-private partnership model could also be explored for biodiversity conservation. As the country is heading towards middle income status, ODA and grants support is gradually shrinking. In such scenario private sector may be a source of conservation finance. In addition to applying the ‘polluters pay’ principle there should be effort to turn biodiversity conservation into business case to attract the private sector.

Being one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world, climate change is expected to have a substantial effect on our biodiversity and ecosystems. However, we do not have clear knowledge of climate risks and vulnerability of our ecosystems or how the ecosystems may be modified in the future in a changing climate. Therefore, we need to assess climate risks and vulnerability of all the ecosystems and PAs to make adaptive intervention. Thus, our conservation efforts are not yet climate informed and the current day conservation investments may turn out to be fruitless in the future if we do not adopt climate compatible conservation efforts (e.g. ecosystem based adaptation). Long-term monitoring of ecosystems with climate change-integrated conservation strategies is also essential.

To make our country as conservation responsive nations, a strong political commitment, adequate budget, mindset and passion is required to conserve our valuable biodiversity before it is too late and many valuable species extinct from our nature forever.

The writer is working with UNDP Bangladesh



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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.

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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