Shadow over Sundarbans

Abdul Aziz

SINCE 1974, because of the diversion of fresh water from Ganges through Farakka Barrage, the salinity of water and in the soil has increased in a large part of Bangladesh. This has already impacted on the growing stocks of the Sundarbans.
Inventories of the Department of Forests (1996) showed that there were 144 trees per hectare in 1996 compared to 296 trees per hectare in 1959 (report by Forestal). Trend analysis estimated a further decrease to 109 total trees per hectare in 2020.
Now, there is a possibility of “the black carbon” (soot) appearing near Sundarbans. The black carbon forms a layer on leaves and other parts of a plant and becomes sticky within a few days, resulting in decreased light penetration to the leaves that will obviously reduce photosynthesis and growth of plants.
An expert of the CEGIS is trying to justify the building of a power plant by quoting that by buying electricity for Tk.1 taka the people will get benefit between Tk.39 and Tk.45. This may look beneficial in the short run, however, in the long run, the forest will be destroyed. It is just to mention that at present, the Sundarbans (at least the Bangladesh part) has a carbon reserve of about 120 million tons (an estimate of 2010).
The shrinking of the Sundarbans is not mainly due to anthropogenic effects, but the salinity intrusion as mentioned before. The expert also mentioned that the disasters in the region are making people in the area poor, and salinity is hampering the growth of crops. Why have the frequency of disasters and the salinity of soil and water increased? Why have the natural disasters increased? Because of climate change.
To my mind, another climate change factor will be introduced by installing a coal-operated power plant near Sundarbans.
Here is an excerpt of a poem by British poet-laureate Ted Hughes about Sundarbans:
For the singer God created
Her voice.
For the poet
His words.
For Bangladesh
The Sundarbans.
What happens to the singer
Who loses her voice?
What happens to the poet
Who loses his words?
Bangladesh take care
Of the Sundarbans.

The writer is Chairman, Department of Botany, Dhaka University.

Source: The Daily Star


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