Although February 14 is celebrated as Valentine’s Day, the people of the coastal areas of the Sundarbans celebrate the day as ‘Sundarbans Day’ with a call to come forward for protecting the forest and mitigating the impacts of climate change on the Unesco World Heritage Site.
Sundarbans, the land of mangrove and Royal Bengal Tiger, is facing the impacts climate change which is affecting nature-dependent livelihoods, health, and nutrition of nearby communities.
The day has been celebrated for two decades in the coastal southwestern region including Khulna to raise awareness among people about the need of conserving the Sundarbans.
On February 14, 2001, under the Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan, Khulna University and 70 other environmental organizations of the country declared February 14 as ‘Sundarbans Day’ and celebrate it every year.
Taking to UNB, Professor Rafiqul Islam, a resident of Paikgachha upazila adjacent to the Sundarbans, said, “The Sundarbans is vital for our survival. The Sundarbans is the lungs of South Asia. If we do not take proper initiatives to protect it, our country will face a great disaster. So first of all you have to love the Sundarbans. February 14 is the Sundarbans Day for us. “
Bidesh Ranjan Mridha, president of Koyra Unnayan Sangram Coordination Committee, said, “On February 14, we want to inspire the coastal people to love the Sundarbans. Many people do not understand what damages are being done to the Sundarbans. Nature in the forest is changing due to the rise in the salinity level.”
“Sundari tree, one of the most extensively found mangrove species in the Sundarbans, is disappearing fast. Goran, Gewa, Keora are growing there. The nature of water and soil of the Sundarbans has changed. If there was no Sundarbans, Koyra upazila would have been vanished by the cyclones, “ he added.
Keramat Mawla, a former member of Mahisharipur union adjacent to the Sundarbans, said, “Now fish are not found in the river next to our Sundarbans. Profit mongers are killing animals with poison to destroy the Sundarbans. The number of deer is also shrinking. Golpata collectors cut thousands of maunds of leaves with a permit of 500 maunds. We want to make local residents aware of these issues on Sundarbans Day.”
Mihir Kumar Do, forest conservator of Khulna region of the Forest Department, said there are 5,000 species of supplementary plants, 198 species of amphibians, 124 species of reptiles, 579 species of birds, 125 species of mammals and 30 species of shrimps in the Sundarbans.
“The economic and social condition of two crore people of the southwestern region is also more or less dependent on the Sundarbans. So we have to keep this natural protection wall intact at any cost. At the same time, any activities that harm the Sundarbans should be stopped,” he added.
The Sundarbans – home to numerous plants and wildlife– covers an area of 6,017 sqkm in Bangladesh. It was declared a “reserve forest” in 1978.
A World Bank report, titled ‘Coping with climate change in the Sundarbans: Lessons from multidisciplinary studies’ (published in 2020), disclosed concerning information on shrinking of the forest area.
According to the report, the total area of the Sundarbans (India’s West Bengal and Bangladesh) was 11,904 sqkm between 1904 and 1924. In 1967, it shrank to 11,663 sqkm, and in 2016, to 11,506 sqkm.
According to various sources, there are 450 small and major rivers and canals in the Sundarbans. The total length of these canals and rivers is about 350 km. Due to tides, the banks of the rivers are eroded and formed again. Data says that in 100 years, more erosion happened, which cannot be prevented yet.