Sundarbans: All fires in 23yrs were confined to only 5pc area

Sundarbans: All fires in 23yrs were confined to only 5pc area
Sundarbans: All fires in 23yrs were confined to only 5pc area

All fires in the Sundarbans over the last 23 years occurred in just five percent area of ​​the mangrove forest under the eastern forest division.

While forest officials blame the fire incidents on siltation and elevation of the forest land, locals and experts say the fires are often lit intentionally by a section of influential fishermen who act in collusion with some crooked forest officials.

Explaining natural causes behind the fires, Mihir Kumar Doe, forest conservator in Khulna region, yesterday told The Daily Star that siltation has elevated the land of the eastern forest division. This has severely disrupted the impacts of low and high tides, which are crucial for any mangrove forest.

The tide is the main characteristics of the Sundarbans, he said.

“Water cannot enter many parts of the forest [due to the elevation] …The ecology of the area is changing because of the irregular water access. Not only the riverbeds, but even the forest ground has risen.

“The dry leaves accumulated on the ground have rotted and formed a layer that is between an inch and a foot thick, which can fuel fires.”

Doe also said that during the dry season, natural boundaries like narrow channels and canals between the forest and the human settlements surrounding it disappear, exposing the forest to a range of human activities.

Locals and forest division sources said discarded cigarettes and fishermen setting bushes on fire to collect fish hidden in the mud were key reasons for the fires in the forest’s eastern division.

They added that influential people control the fisheries in the eastern division, and some channels and canals are being used for freshwater fish farming.

Locals and some honey collectors, who are often blamed as they make fires to smoke out bees, said the forest in the east division had very little honey and that most of the honey is collected from the west division, which had no fires in the last 23 years.

Abdullah Harun Chowdhury, a professor at Khulna University, said all the fires occurred particularly between April and May and in a certain area.

The fire-prone area is close to settlements and easily accessible to the people, he said.

“During high tide, water enters the forest along with fish, especially freshwater fish. And in the mangrove forest, one cannot fish with nets. So, they set fire to bushes on the edge of channels and canals and clear the land to collect the fish from the mud.”

He added that the forest department can easily prevent such activities as they can control people’s access to the forest there.

Doe, however, said fishermen setting bushes on fire was rather rare.

“They fish along the entire Sundarbans, but the fires don’t occur everywhere, only in five percent area of ​​the forest.”

Meanwhile, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan yesterday informed the cabinet that the recent fire at Sundarbans’s east division, which broke out on Saturday afternoon, remains under control. He, however, did not say it was completely done.

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