Challenges to natural resources and poverty alleviation in Bangladesh

--Md. Shamsul Alam Deputy Chief Conservator of Forest Planning Wing, Department of Forest

4. Samsul Alam

Development aims at meeting human needs. Social and ecological factors must be taken into cognizance if development has to be sustainable. The intent of development is to procreate maximum benefit to the present generation by rational use of biosphere and maintain its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future society. Dramatic progress has been made in overall living standards in a significant number of developing nations. During the past several decades, child mortality rates in developing countries have more than halved and malnutrition rates declined by almost a third. Yet despite these positive trends, poverty persists in most of the developing world.

Both the share of the population and the number of people living on less than a dollar a day increased by the early 1990s, declined substantially in the mid-1990s, but then rose again in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. It is estimated that in 1998 there were approximately 1.2 billion people living on less than a dollar a day and 2.8 billion people living on less than $ 2 per day. In South Asia the share of the population living in poverty declined moderately in the 1990s, but the actual number of poor people has been rising steadily since 1987.

Poverty, Growth, and the Environment

The linkages between environmental conditions and human welfare are extraordinarily complex. Human development depends on the ability of the environment to provide a variety of goods and services and to sustain these into the future. People rely on their environment for food, drinking water, shelter, energy, and medicine. Ecological processes maintain soil productivity, nutrient cycling, the cleansing of air and water, and climatic cycles. Air and water quality are key determinants of human health. Healthy soils are fundamental for food production, while genetic diversity supports the breeding programs that are vital for the growth of food supplies.

Poverty, Natural Resources, and Livelihoods

Poor people living in the rural areas depend on natural resources, such as forest, soil, water and fishing for subsistence. Such dependence causes degradation of natural resources.

Land and soils – Soils are the foundation of agriculture. The maintenance of their fertility is the result of natural processes in healthy ecosystems, including preserving vegetative cover and soil and biodiversity. Most agricultural land area in developing countries, however, has soils that are of degradation-prone, Land and soils degradation have accelerated with about 11 percent of the earth’s vegetated surface degradation resulting in loss of productivity and increased vulnerability to natural disasters.

Freshwater Resources – Over-extraction and over-regulation of surface waters reduce in-stream environmental uses and downstream consumptive uses, exacerbates saltwater intrusion, affects the productivity of riparian lands, and reduces the capacity of water bodies to assimilate wastes. In Bangladesh, use of groundwater is about half the rate of natural replenishment on an annual basis and the burden falls on poor farmers. During the dry season, the time when irrigation is most needed, heavy extraction of water causes many water bodies to go dry. We have to keep it in mind that Freshwater Resources are sources of as much as 75 percent of protein in some poor countries.

Coastal ecosystems and fisheries – The coastal ecosystems world-wide are under constrain to provide goods and services such as fish production, recreation and tourism as a result of habitat loss or conversion, over exploitation and pollution from human induced activities, and on a global scale, climate change. About 70 percent of marine fish stocks are either depleted or over exploited

Forest Resources Management – Four-fifths of wood harvested in developing countries is consumed as fuel. Many countries, however, face a widening gap between their fuelwood needs and sustainable supplies such as China, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam and these countries could face critical fuelwood shortages within the next 20 years. Women and children bear the greatest burden of this scarcity. The most alarming fact is that the global rates of forest loss increased from about 12 million hectares per year in the 1970s to over 13 million hectares (about 0.7 percent of total natural forest cover) per year in the 2005. Forests in Bangladesh is under constant threat as a result of increasing demand or cultivable land, fuelwood, shrimp cultivation and industrialization.

Biodiversity – Natural habitats and their component species and genes provide both goods for consumption and ecological services to maintain healthy environments and economies. Present rate of species extinction is 100 to 1000 times the natural rate. Some scientist estimate that up to half of presently existing plant and animal species become extinct by 2100.

Regional and Global Dimensions

Environmental problems don’t stop at national boundaries. The poorest countries are often those most threatened by the degradation of the global commons. Climate change is projected to cause significant increases in famine and hunger in many of the world’s poorest areas, which especially in the tropics and sub-tropics, depend on isolated agricultural systems. Climate change is also expected to lead to the displacement of millions of people from small island states such as the Maldives and low-lying dclta areas of Bangladesh, China, and Egypt.

Forest Management and Poverty Reduction: Bangladesh There is a paradigm shift in the management of forest resources in Bangladesh and a gradual shift of forest management from the traditional custodian role to a more participatory approach has been observed. Bangladesh Forest Department since eighties embarked on community forestry with active involvement of poor masses.

The plantations raised under several ADB funded have being harvested. The participant got their shares and they with the shares have been able to improve their socio-economic conditions. So far, till to date, Taka 2080.3 million have been  distributed among 105,633 participants. The participants are now enthused and want to take bigger role in the  plantation programs. So, to some extent, Bangladesh has been able to alleviate poverty of rural masses.

Conclusion : Globally, there is a need to recognize the policy, institutional, and scientific linkages between poverty reduction, the sustainable use of natural resources, and regional and global environmental issues, as well as the linkages among various environmental issues to address the problem of poverty reduction.

A key challenge of development is to find the right balance between the environmental, social and economic aspects of development. A lasting reduction in poverty is possible by ensuring that:

s  The environment continues to provide fundamental ecological services for the benefit of current and future generations.

s  Human health is protected from the adverse effects of pollution.

s  Environmental services such as the provision of water, sanitation, and waste collection and disposal, benefit all segments of society-especially the poor.

s  Natural resources are used in a manner that does not compromise long-term development.

s  Environmental risks are managed and mitigated.

But real lasting solution to poverty reduction is achievable if the environment is able to provide the services people depend on, and if natural resources are used in a manner that does not undermine long-term development. The successes so far achieved in Bangladesh is the arena of social forestation involving rural masses would have lasting effects if programs in other sectors such as in environment, public health can generate the services needed for environment amelioration.