Wetland Management in Bangladesh

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Wetland Management in Bangladesh– A Sustainable Biodiversified Approach

The term ‘Wetland’ means a very low-lying Eco-System where the ground water level is always at or very near to the surface. It includes – Marshes, Jheels, Beels, Bog areas, Floodplains and shallow coastal areas. Wetland is basically divided into Estuarine and Freshwater zones which are again subdivided according to their soil types and plant life. The Ramsar Convention which has been adopted and used in Bangladesh (1971), defined wetlands as – “Areas of marsh, fen, peat land, or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.” So, wetlands lumps together a wide range of contrasting habitats like – the fluvial, estuarine, coastal and marine habitats. Based on their biological, physiological and ecological identities 39 categories of wetlands has been globally recognized, of which 30 are natural and the rest artificial.

The recent drive to protect the wetlands in our country for a sustainable biodiversity – an approach to protect and utilize our natural resources, has been a foresighted economic promotion endeavor for a resourceful future Bangladesh. The wetlands of the country serve as a diverse habitat for a huge number of floras and fauna which are not only important from their socio-economic point of view but also for their role played in our rich eco-systems. The livelihoods of the countrymen inhabiting the wetlands are solely dependant on their natural resources. Besides, culture programs like – rice and shrimp production and dike marketing are also directly involved the wetlands and the local inhabitants supporting them for their livelihood. So, the harboring of our resourceful wetlands is as essential as the caring of people there. Though the population growth in the country is higher and the southern belt is frequently interrupted by natural calamities like – Ayela, Cedar, tidal bore, surge, inundation etc., the wetlands have been under pressure. The degradation of those areas has  causing several problems like – the extinction and reduction of wildlife as well as many endemic varieties of rice and aquatic plants, herbs, shrubs and weeds, loss of natural nutrients and natural water reserves. So, a scientific endeavor to preserve and culture the wetlands could help protect them and promote the country’s economy to a greater extent.

The wetlands of Bangladesh can be categorized as below based upon their land types as well as hydrological and ecological functions.

Wetlands Types Characteristics
Saltwater Marine Shallow waters at low tide, e.g., Bay coral reefs like – St. Martin’s island.
Estuarine Intertidal sand, mud or salt basins with specific vegetation, like – newly accreted intertidal land, marshes, forests and mangroves, e.g., Sundarbans.
Lagoonal Brackish to saline lagoons with narrow connection with the sea.
Freshwater (FW) Riverine Rivers and streams with their tributeries including the Chars.
Lacustrine Lakes, Beels or Jheels of different sizes and shapes distributed all over specially in the districts of – Noakhali, Comilla, Brahmanbaria, Sylhet, Faridpur, Pabna, Rajshahi, Jessore and Khulna.
Palustrine Marshes and Swamps with emergent vegetation or swamp forest, or peat-forming swamps. e.g., Hijal forests in the lowlands.
Man-made   Aquaculture ponds (brackish and FW), irrigated lands and irrigation channels, salt pans or Hydro-dam. e.g., Kaptai Lake.

 

The total area of Wetlands in Bangladesh is about seven or eight million hectares, which constitutes about 50% of the land surface of the country. The soil scientists have adopted a different approach to define the wetlands here from the agricultural point of view. They have divided the country into six broad land types based upon the depth and duration of inundation or flooding. Those are – Highlands, MediumHighlands, Medium Lowlands, Lowlands, Very Lowlands and Bottomlands. Of those, according to them, the wetlands in our country range from the Medium Lowlands which attains a floodwater depth of 180cm during the monsoon, through the Bottomlands which remain wet throughout the year. The majority of land here was formed by the river alluvium of the rivers Ganges and Brahmaputra and their tributaries from where our wetlands emerged.  Keeping the major rivers, their tributaries and streams under consideration, the major wetlands in our country constitutes the fluvial or floodplains, some of which are known as – Ramsagar, Aila Beel, Arial Beel, Chalan Beel, Erali Beel, Kuri Beel, Meda Beel, Gopalganj-Khulna Beel, Beel Bhatia,  Tanguar Haor, Dubriar Haor, Dekhar Haor, Hail Haor, Hakaluki Haor, Kawadighi Haor, Ata Danga Haor, Kaptai Lake, Bogakine Lake, Sundarban West, Sundarbar South, Sundarban East, Chakaria Sundarbans, Naf estuary,  Atrai Basin, lower Punarbhaba floodplains, Surma-Kushiara floodplains, St. Martin’s Island and Reef etc. The manmade wetlands include the – ditches, ponds, tanks, lakes. The areal extent of our wetlands are given below –

Name of Wetlands / Water bodies Area in Sq. km.
Rivers 7,497
Estuarine & Mangrove Swamps 6,102
Beels, Jheels & Haors 1,142
Inundable Floodplains 54,866
Kaptai Lake 688
Ponds & Tanks 1,469
Baors (Oxbow Lakes) 55
Brackish-water Farms 1,080

Total =

72,899

For the preservation, protection and management of our wetlands and natural water resources, we must know their importance. The fauna and flora related to the wetlands either directly or indirectly is diverge. So, the wetlands have a wide range of ecological, socio-cultural, economic and commercial importance. The floral composition of our freshwater wetlands include trees like – Hijal, Tamal, Madar, Gab, Jaldumur, Barun, Chitki etc.; shrubs or aquatic vegetations like – duckweeds, water hyacinth, lotus, water lily etc.; and herbs like – grass, creepers, Thankuni, Kalmi, Helencha etc. More than 5,000 species of flowering plants along with 1,500 species of vertebrates including 750 species of Birds and over 500 species of coastal, estuarine and freshwater fishes inhabit the wetland area of our country. Of those, about 400 sp. of vertebrates and 300 sp. of plants is solely dependant upon the wetlands for their total life or a part of it. About 260 species of freshwater fish exist in our wetlands supplying us the main source of our protein supplement (70%) in the country. The wetlands are enriched with sedimentation composed of clay soil, rich in organic matters and silt, deposited every year during the monsoon floods. Besides, varieties of crop that can tolerate water logging or inundation grows there supporting the people for their staple food, e.g., the deepwater rice or floating rice had been the main source of food supplement in those areas before the introduction of irri cultivation in 1960’s.  Besides, the wetlands are very important to us for their density of human settlement, biodiversity, agricultural diversity, fisheries, prawn cultures, communication, navigation and ecotourism.

The direct or indirect threats which have been dominating over the Wetlands of Bangladesh are multifarious and directly related to the socio-economic condition of the local people and successive changes in the ecosystems. Construction of dikes for the protection of rice crops, poverty of the local people and their conflict for occupying wetland areas, Illegal and over-fishing in the spawning season, insufficient facilities and support or monitoring from the Govt., lack of knowledge about the value of wetlands,   water pollution caused from domestic and industrial wastes, indiscriminate cutting of aquatic vegetation and commercial logging etc. has threatened the normalcy of many of our wetlands to a greater extent.

The institutions developed so far for the propagation of the spirit, education and expatriation for protecting, managing and utilizing our Wetlands are negligible. But, a few Govt. and Non-Govt. institutions have been playing a considerable role in this concern. Govt. institutions like – the Ministry of Land, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt. Forest Dept. and Fisheries Dept., BD Water Development Board (BWDB), Flood Plain Co-ordination Organization (FPCO), The Space Research and Remote Sensing Organization and a few NGOs are playing a vital role in the conservation of our Wetlands. But, ironically, no specific legislation for the management and monitoring of wetlands prevails in the country, though a few sectoral laws are there, like –

  • The Forest Act 1927 (amended), that prohibits hunting, shooting and fishing in the reserved forests.
  • BD Wildlife preservation Act 1974 (amended), that prohibits hunting, killing and capturing of animals prescribed for protection.
  • East Bengal Protection and Conservation of Fish Act 1950 (amended in 1982), that provides protection and conservation of fish in the inland waters of Bangladesh.
  • The East Bengal State Acquisition and Tenancy Act 1950, that transfers ownership of Jalmahals form the landlords to the Govt.
  • The Haor Dev. Board Ordinance 1977, that prepares projects and schemes for the development of the haors and other similar low-laying and depressed areas.
  • The Acquisition of WasteLand Act, 1950.
  • The CultureWasteLand Ordinance, 1959.
  • The Canal Act, 1927.
  • The irrigation act, 1864.
  • The Environmental Pollution Control Ordinance, 1977.
  • The Inland Shipping Ordinance, 1976.
  • The Inland Water Transport Authority Ordinance, 1958.
  • The Land Reform Board Act, 1989.
  • The Agricultural Pest Ordinance, 1962.
  • The Embankment and Drainage Act, 1952.
  • The Penal Code, 1860.
  • The Non Agricultural Tenancy Act, 1947.

The conservation programs adopted so far are not few and funds allocated in this concern are also encouraging. The Wetland Conservation Fund is an international policy and legal assistance adopted for the nature conservation. Funds have been received by various organizations and NGOs so far from – WWF-USA, WWF-Malaysia, Canadian Intl. Dev. Agency (CIDA), Embassy of Switzerland, Wetlands Intl. Asia-Pacific of Malaysia, Nagao Natural Env. Foundation (NEF) of Japan, BD Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), Ashoka-Innovators for the Public of USA, Birdlife Intl. of UK, Govt. Forest Dept., Ministry of Sc. and Technology, Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Royal Society for Bird Preservation (RSBP) of UK, Excelsior Group of Companies, Sena Kalayan Sangshtha, BD Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS),- for various purpose of research especially Bird and other animal survey. So, it is not impossible that the Govt. and the Non-Govt. organization can plan for further research and development of our resourceful wetlands and their inhabitants. In this concern NGOs like the Nature Conservation Movement (NACOM) has been playing a considerable role since 80s, who can be a Role Model for other organizations working for the same purpose. They have the target for developing programs like –

  • Green Vessel for Nature Watch and Education.
  • National Wetlands Forum
  • Nature, Women & Children
  • Environmental Safety & Risk Management
  • Captive Propagation of Game animals & Eco-product Development.
  • Rehabilitation and Restoration of Wetlands.
  • Nature Tours / PrivateWetlandsPark.
  • Nature News.
  • BanglaCoast Laboratory.
  • BD Red Data Book for Wildland & Wildlife.
  • Nature Credit Program for ‘Value-added Natural resource-based product development’.

NACOM has not only been planning for but also has completed the following programs –

  • Non-formal Environmental Education for Biodiversity Conservation – Supported by BRAC.
  • People-Participatory Biodiversity Research & Conservation – Supported by Nagao Natural Env. Foundation (NEF), Japan.
  • Survey of a Turtle – Batagur baska – Supported by WWF-Malaysia / IUCN-SSC-Fresh water Turtle Specialist Group.
  • Survey of Biological and Trade-Status of Monitor Lizards – Supported by CMC/CITES.
  • Survey of Otters – Sponsored by WWF-US / IUCN-SSC-OSG
  • People-Participatory Ecosystem Conservation – Supported by Ashoka : Innovators for the Public, USA
  • Wetlands Biodiversity Assessment – Supported by NERP/CIDA/AWB/NACOM.
  • 10th Asian Waterfowl Census, 1987-1996, – Sponsored by Wetlands International (Former AWB/IWRB/WA) & CIDA
  • Survey and study of Green Frog, Turtles & Tortoises, Threatened Waterfowl, River Dolphin and Elephants – Supported by – Govt. Forest Department and Ministry of Environment & Forests.

To sum up the whole and to recommend for a better future we should think over a few vital points. At the top is the pressure of Population and their basic requirements. So, organizations should come forward to develop sustainable pathway to conserve our wetland resources through collaborative participatory actions. Should the public not be concerned or included in this program and are not provided with some alternative income generating sources – all endeavors done will turn into smokes. Another big threat lies on the dumping or spelling of local pollutant materials from household sources or industries. The industrial wastes can easily be controlled by recycling method and the local people can change their habits through proper education and motivation. The third and the real target for Wetland Management lies on the scientific utilization of the water resource in a sustainable and income generating source to make way for an economic growth of the local people and the Govt. But, above all, we must keep in mind that Wetlands are dynamic ecosystems, which change over a longer period of time. Despite protection from external threats they may die a natural death due to heavy siltation or change in water courses. So, any activity or transformation of wetlands through human intervention must be carefully done.

-Mizanur Rahman Bhuiyan

Faculty, Dept. of Biology, Notre Dame College &

Founder Director, Notre Dame Nature Study Club

Ref.-

  1. Ali, M.U., Towards Sustainable Development: Fisheries Resource of Bangladesh; Ministry of  Env. and Forest, and National Conservation Strategy Secretariat, BARC, Dhaka, 1991
  2. Anon. 1985, Haor Development Reconnaissance Study: Early Implementation Projects; BD Water Dev. Board, Dhaka.
  3. BD Fisheries Resources Survey System (BFRSS), 1986, Water Area Statistics of Bangladesh; Fisheries Info. Bulletin, Vol. I, December, 1986, Dhaka.
  4. Hussain, Z., Wetlands of Bangladesh; IUCN Wetlands Programme Newsletter, June, 1993
  5. Sarker, Subrata, Wetland Management Strategies in Bangladesh; Tigerpaper, Vol. 30, No. 4, Oct.-Dec.,2009
  6. Handout of NACOM, Nature Conservation Movement, 4, Sobhanbag, Mohammadia Super Market, Dhaka-1207.
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