This weekend, I got my first real taste of passenger ferry (locally known as lonch). Shodorghat was no longer a mythical place where boats brimming with people travel to certain destinations with uncertain destinies. Rather it was a place where the wastes of lives float away. As if it helps unburdening human conscious as the bottle produces black ripples joining other bottle brethrens floating in a corner, packets of Mr. Twist finally was freed to taste the air outside, like a symbol of freedom. Overarching metaphors aside, littering is a subconscious behavior that gets even more profoundly projected when you are surrounded by litters. The marginal increase in waste isn’t going to decrease the humongous total anyway, why bother finding a garbage can? Normally, the sensible act is to hold on to the litter, till a trash can or open air trash station appears, but in Shodorghat, or inside the lonch, those were impossible to locate. As if everyone has given into the norms of littering, has decided to embrace the dirty life, has adapted to the ebbs and flows of the liquefied garbage cause Mother Nature can take it all. For those who consciously indulge and are capable of providing excuses, the responses vary from “too lazy to find one” or “everybody else is doing it” to “I pay taxes”.
In fact, the collective love for nature itself is nothing surprising. We insert our intellectual inputs in vehement discourse in Facebook threads to protect Sundarban from coal mines. Our unbounded love for the longest unbroken beach drives us to vote for it as the natural wonders. We have memorized “gach lagan poribesh bachan” and can’t wait to tear down the government when our roadside trees are taken down.
Bit of a background on the trip. We were on our way to see the natural extension of mangrove forest in Kuakata, an extension of Sundarban. After much of the usual touristy activities being checked off, we hopped on a local steamer, traveling through rivers which still have retained their natural color, to find this magical scrape of well kept greenery called “Fatrar Bon”. This particular patch of forest is more of a regenerative forest that is now well maintained. Mangrove trees offer coastal protection as the roots help trap slits and sediments to prevent coastal soil erosion and also control the crashing waves to help stabilize the shoreline. However, in places where unmanaged timber and logging has led to the thinning of forests, the areas nearby are in the danger of being submerged during rainy seasons, with settlers and small villages in these areas, lives and livelihoods are at risk. Continuous barriers or dams or walls have proven to be ineffective short term measures and so, innovative policies and forest managements have become the trend now. Mangrove engineering and maintenance has cropped up as a plausible fall back system to ensure the land remains overwater in rainy seasons.
A walk around the forest would tell you it isn’t similar to all other mangroves. It didn’t have roots positioned outwards, or the mud splashing everywhere with every step. The forest itself didn’t have the dense grim silence that you would imagine. Instead, you could hear the waves crashing on the roots of trees at the end of forest. You could also, spend hours battling nettles and straining your ears to locate birdsongs – typical forest stuff. Along with these, you would also find some evidences of human existence. Broken bottles, packets- the regular trashes that seem to have followed me all the way from Dhaka.
This wasn’t an epiphany directing how extreme our simple habits have turned. We are all pretty aware of our ravaging rampant desire to throw away. But what we often forget is how these are precursors to our perceptions towards our environment. We forget how these indicate the dedication we put forward in attempts to protect the biggest mangrove or the longest unbroken beach. It is no news that we are a nation of uninformed and hypocrites. But why should we also be a nation of informed indolent citizens? Why should the roads around the house, not deserve as much attention as the touristy places? Why should the development of tourism only mean that far flung places must be kept neat to seduce visitors for revenue?
A bit of Googling on economy and environment would tell you that the upcoming SDG – Sustainable Development Goals, shall replace the MDGs which we are so proud to have excelled at. Even among the MDGs, the self applauds takes a huge pause by the 7th goal, which was to ensure environmental stability with key indicator being 20% of land area covered by forests, wherein we have reached only 11% from a base level of 9%. Research papers and journals estimate the contribution of environment on national GDP to range from 5% to 40% varying across countries. In Bangladesh, a rough estimate stands at 9% minimum. This valuation doesn’t only take environmental tourism into account, but rather every form of economic activity that relies on environment. With upcoming SDGs being more focused on environmental sustainability and protection, can we actually hope to recreate the success? Or will our uncontrollable habits seep in our actions so that we may cast away all hopes of a greener cleaner nation?