Sustainable tourism centre at Sundarbans?

This has reference to the news item "Government to set up sustainable tourism centre at Sundarban" published in The Daily Star 28th October 2002.

I am rather shocked to notice that a loss making organisation like the Tourism Corporation of Bangladesh jumping into some ethically high standard venture called "Sustainable Tourism". I'd like to ask the tourism department, have any of its earlier programmes became successful? All its hi-fi motels, clubs in touristically and potentially rich beach resort of Cox's Bazar are mostly lying empty.

It seems in the name of sustainable tourism centre in the Sundarbans Tourism Department is hatching a plan to go ahead with structural developments within the boundary of the Sundarbans where till date there exists no structures other than those of forestry establishments, port authorities and the naval establishments.

Any structural development within the Sundarbans would destroy this lone so-called virgin forest of Bangladesh. Bangladesh forest department and others have already destroyed most of the natural forests in the Sal Forest belt and in the mixed and pure evergreen forested areas of the country, namely the Madhupur Tract, Barind Tract (Rangpur-Dinajpur), former Greater Chittagong Revenue Division.

Alternatively all structural developments should be restricted to the outskirts or the periphery of the Sundarbans. All visitors to it should be transported on boats of various sizes and dimensions, motorized or manually driven. Even there could be accommodation boats like the famous "bozra nouka" of our heritage in the waters around the Sundarbans but not inside the Sundarbans. Instead of constructing ugly cemeneted structures let there be hundreds of hamlets built with Goalpata, Khajur or Narikel pata (nipa, date and coconut palm fronts) with olden day hurricane lantern or petromax-hajak lantern. That will attract people. Air-conditioned rooms, TV and computers will not attract genuine tourists but elements of the society with unaccounted money. Such structures could be at Mongla, Dhangmari, and Sarankhola and under Satkhira district that border the Sundarbans. This will neither destroy the scenic beauty of the Sundarbans nor its wildlife. At the same time people will get a firsthand chance to spend some time on a floating vessel, boat, launch, etc. This will be a lifetime experience for a person or family from home and abroad.

First and foremost our tourism and forestry or environment department should try to attract Bangladeshi tourists after making a safe and secured minimum development. Once Bangladeshi tourists' visitation turns from trickle to a mass flow can our tourism organizations think of attracting foreign tourists.

Most foreign tourists want local fervour in everything from boats, foods, accommodation and local items of handicrafts instead of TV, Radio, VCR and electric supply systems. They want something classic and firsthand from the locality or the country but nothing "foreign" because they enjoy all that in their home country.

I appeal to all government and non-governmental, and national and international NGOs not to allow anybody to go ahead with structural developments within the Sundarbans, be these concrete roads or buildings in the name of sustainable utilization of the natural resources.

All roads and highways through the former Chittagong Hill Tracts and Sylhet Districts have led to wholesale forest destruction. It has expedited the removal of forest material in truckloads, instead of head-loads or boatloads that were controllable. Any structural development in the Sundarbans will make floodgate opening for the poaching of wildlife and the forest resources that needs to be stopped immediately

We need to remember that the Sundarbans is the largest single piece of mangrove forest of the world covering an area of about 5700 square kilometers. There are no human settlements within the Bangladesh part of Sundarbans

This is the most pristine forest of Bangladesh that holds maximum biological diversity in a minimum area. We will not be able to create a new Sundarbans once this is destroyed. We have not even been able to recreate the Sal or mixed-evergreen forests in spite of hundreds of crores of taka being spent by the forest and environment departments and international NGOs for it.

Source: Dr. Reza Khan is Head of Dubai Zoo, Uniteion on Parks and Protected Areas/IUCN , The Daily Star, 04. 11. 02 1

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