Bangladesh India Sundarban Region Cooperation Initiative
বাংলাদেশ ভারত সুন্দরবন
যৌথ উদ্যোগ
Saturday, February 27, 2021
1 May 2019

‘Sundarban will not survive unless the rivers crisscrossing it are kept alive’ …

Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka, an expert in water and environment politics in South-East Asia, spoke with Sundarban Beyond Border

Q. Lot of question has been arising about the future of Sundarban; what is your opinion?

A. A fundamental fault lies with the way most think about Sundarban. Sundarban is a delta region and, hence, in order to keep it alive; we have to keep the rivers around it alive as well. We tend to forget that the river is not just a flowing sheet of water; but actually a mix flow of sediment and water. We are actually intercepting this flow either through erecting dams or in some other ways. Till the understanding that Sundarban is just not a piece of land but actually a riverine area sets in with all the stakeholders; Sundarban’s vulnerability will not decrease.

Q. You are talking about the criticality of rivers in Sundarban or the need to keep the rivers alive ; but in recent times, many experts are claiming that by ensuring minimum ecological flow, perhaps in tune of 25 to 30 per cent overall river flow, biodiversity can be sustained …

A.(Interrupting)) Meaningless, unrealistic words. I do not at all subscribe to such theory. Does it mean that there is no biodiversity in the remaining 70 percent of the water? I think much more deliberations are required on such critical issue. However I know for sure that Sundarban will not survive unless the rivers crisscrossing it are kept alive.

Q. For sometimes there have been talks that both India and Bangladesh jointly think about the survival of Sundarban, this unique ecosystem will not survive. Do you share the contention?

A. Can’t agree more. To sustain Sundarban, we need to think holistically and definitely by going beyond political boundaries. We need to keep in mind that both Sundarban, at India and Bangladesh, are part of same ecosystem. I and you may know; but the tigers in Sundarban do not know in which country they belong. Ditto for other animals. Hence, as I said, we need to take steps jointly to save Sundarban. When somebody talks about Amazon forest, does he or she split in between Brazil or other south American countries? They don’t. Many similar examples are found in Europe when number of countries work together to sustain a natural system. Even in south Asia, many countries are working in tandem for the betterment of Mekong river. Such deed is not only desirable but a must for Sundarban.

Q. In your opinion, should the civil society of two countries take lead in such collaborative effort … what we call Track II negotiations?

A. I do not want to differentiate among Track I, II or III. As long as a government officer sits on his chair, he may be part of Track I; but does not his role change when he discusses key issues with his family members or friends? However, I do strongly believe that civil society should take a frontline role in ensuring sustenance of undivided Sundarban. The young should play a critical role in the effort and, to facilitate that, there should be enough reading materials about Sundarban and its importance in the curricula in both schools and colleges. In present day system, due to lack of such exposure, when somebody comes to occupy an important decision making position ; he or she, more often than not, already tends to form a negative opinion about environmental issues. I am quite confident, if environmental education starts early; we will be able to change the scenario.

Q. It’s a very important, but a long-term thought. But now how we can link the politicians to the cause of environment?

A. The major problem of politicians is that they have to think about small vested interests; be it of their own region, country or even political outcomes and votes. I’m not saying that the politicians should not think about their respective countries; however in some issues, like that of Sundarban, they have to think beyond the exclusive interest of their countries. The logic is straight forward; the country cannot survive if the world does not survive. To change the present trend, as I spelt out earlier, there should be changes in curricula for students which should accommodate important environmental issues like Sundarban. At the short-term level; citizens, academics and researchers have to create regular pressure on governments and politicians of two countries for sustaining Sundarban jointly. However we need to keep in mind that demands without joint thinking process and joint research will sound hollow! The role of media is very important in this context. Sundarban belongs to two countries; and hence, all of us need to keep in mind that one part will not survive if the other does not survive.

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