Bangladesh is home to a wide range of plant and animal species. For many of these species, forests serve as habitat and a place to hide, and are essential for maintaining their populations and ecological balance. The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21st March the International Day of Forests and International Wood Day in 2012 to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests. This day is also celebrated as World Planting Day too. Countries are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organize activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns.
Forests give us so much to our health. They purify the water, clean the air, capture carbon to fight climate change, provide food and life-saving medicines, and improve our well-being. It’s up to us to safeguard these precious natural resources. This 2023 calls for giving, not just taking, because healthy forests will bring healthy people.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the forest area in Bangladesh was approximately 1,726,000 hectares in 2020.
The Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh has led to significant land use changes and deforestation in the region. According to a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the FAO, approximately 8,000 hectares of forest were cleared between August 2017 and January 2018 to make way for Rohingya settlements in Cox’s Bazar. It is important to note that the country has been experiencing deforestation and forest degradation due to factors such as population growth, agriculture expansion, and commercial logging. The government of Bangladesh has recognized the importance of forest conservation and has implemented various policies and initiatives to protect and restore its forest resources.
Forests provide, directly or indirectly, important health benefits for all people – not only those whose lives are closely intertwined with forest ecosystems but also people far from forests, including urban populations. Recognition of the importance of forests for food security and nutrition has significantly increased in recent years, but their role in human health has received less attention. Nutrition and health are intrinsically connected as good nutrition cannot be achieved without good health and vice versa. Therefore, when addressing linkages with forests, it is essential to address health and nutrition at the same time. Yet forests also provide a wide range of benefits to human health and well-being beyond those generally associated with food security and nutrition. Forests also provide important opportunities for ecotourism and nature-based tourism in Bangladesh. Many visitors are attracted to the country’s beautiful forests and the wildlife they support, which can help to generate income and support local economies.
Forests are extremely important for our survival, both environmentally and economically. The major reasons are as follows:
Bangladesh’s Biodiversity: Forests in Bangladesh are home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, including many rare and endangered species. The country’s forests provide critical habitats for wildlife and play an important role in maintaining the country’s ecological balance. Deforestation can lead to the loss of these species and the fragmentation of habitats, which can have long-lasting impacts on the biodiversity of the affected areas.
Climate regulation: Forests help in regulating the climate by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The ecosystem of our world is not complete without trees. They preserve habitat for wildlife, stop soil erosion, and enhance the quality of the air and water. This helps mitigate the impacts of climate change, such as rising temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, and more frequent extreme weather events. As trees are cut down, this carbon is returned to the atmosphere and helps cause climate change. Land clearing contributes to about 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Water resources: Forests also help in regulating water resources by storing and releasing water slowly over time. This helps reduce flooding and erosion, and ensures a reliable supply of water for human use and agriculture. The declining of forest will result in water to be lost through evaporation or runoff, leading to reduced water availability for human use and agriculture.
Livelihoods: Forests provide important livelihood opportunities for many communities in Bangladesh, particularly those who live in or near forested areas. These communities rely on forests for timber, non-timber forest products, and other resources, which they use for food, fuel, and income.
According to the FAO, the world lost 178 million hectares of forest between 1990 and 2016 and the WWF states that deforestation accounts for approximately 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Day by day air pollution is becoming a very concerning issue due to adverse environmental and human health impacts. Trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and release oxygen (O2) through the process of photosynthesis. In doing so, they help reduce the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, which is a major contributor to air pollution and climate change. Other pollutants that are hazardous to human health, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates, are also absorbed by forest. It improves our air quality since trees can act as a natural filter by trapping and absorbing pollutants from the air. Studies have shown that a single mature tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide in a year and can remove up to 70 times more air pollution than a young tree.
Forests play a critical role in filtering and purifying water. Trees and other vegetation help absorb and retain rainwater, which reduces runoff and erosion. They also help to filter out pollutants and other contaminants before the water enters streams, rivers, and other water bodies. A study by the WWF found that forests are capable of filtering up to 99% of sediments and other pollutants from water.
Trees and forests can also help reduce noise pollution by absorbing and blocking sound waves. According to research by the US National Park Service, urban trees and forests can reduce noise levels by up to 50%.
To stop deforestation and enhance the amount of forest cover in the land, the Bangladesh government has started a number of afforestation efforts. The “One Home One Tree” program is one such initiative that attempts to plant a tree for every new house built. Between 2015 and 2020, 21.8 million trees were planted as part of this effort, according to the Forest Department.
Some of the major afforestation programs in Bangladesh till 2022 include:
Social Forestry Program: Launched in the 1980s, the Social Forestry Program aims to promote tree planting on non-forest lands, such as farmland, homesteads, and roadsides. The program provides seedlings, technical assistance, and financial incentives to encourage farmers and landowners to plant trees.
National Tree Plantation Campaign: The National Tree Plantation Campaign is held every year during the monsoon season to promote environmental conservation and mitigate the effects of climate change. Millions of trees are planted across the country, including in urban areas, during this campaign.
Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change through Participatory Forest Management: This project was launched in 2009 and aims to promote sustainable forest management practices in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The project involves the participation of local communities in forest management activities and aims to improve the resilience of communities to the impacts of climate change.
In terms of reducing pollution and promoting environmental health by conserving and expanding forested areas, we can help to mitigate the impacts of pollution on both human health and the environment. Efforts are being made to address the environmental impacts of the Rohingya crisis, including reforestation programs and sustainable land use practices. The department of Forest also conducts various other programs and initiatives to promote tree plantation and increase forest cover.